Olympic torch reaches Everest summit

The Olympic torch has reached the summit of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, Chinese media reported Wednesday.

The Olympic torch has reached the summit of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, Chinese media reported Wednesday.

Norbu Zhamdu, left, lights the Olympic torch of Mount Everest torchbearer Gegyi at the top of the mountain in this photo released by China's Xinhua news agency. ((Ngawang Chagxi/Xinhua/Associated Press))
Live television footage showed a Chinese mountaineering team holding up the torch and Chinese and Olympic flags Thursday at the top of the world.

The 19-member team broke camp at 8,300 metres before dawn on Thursday and reached the top of the 8,850-metre mountain about six hours later, around 9:20 a.m. local time.

The torch was lit from a special canister housing the Olympic flame before the team completed the final icy incline leading to the peak.


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When the team reached the summit, five torchbearers could be heard struggling for breath as they passed the torch among themselves, each inching a few feet before passing the flame to the next person.

"We have lit the torch on top of the world," one climber proclaimed.

The final torchbearer, a Tibetan woman named Cering Wangmo, stood silently on the peak with the torch while her team members unfurled Chinese and Olympic flags.

"We made it," they cheered. "Beijing welcomes you."

During the ascent, the Olympic flame was housed in a special metal canister. When the team was near the top, a wand was used to pass the flame to the torch, which was designed to withstand the frigid, oxygen-thin air.

The torch being used in the Everest climb is separate from the one used in the main relay, which spanned five continents in 130 days. Organizers say the Olympic flame was split to ensure there were no scheduled disruptions for the one crossing the world. 

Organizers of the Beijing Games, which begin in August, hope the dramatic image of the torch reaching the summit will make up for damaging publicity during protest-marred stages of international legs of the relay. The Everest torch summit was done largely in secret in an effort to deter protesters.

The summit ascent was delayed after bad weather damaged some of the camps. Xinhua said the climbers went up along the mountain's north slope.

The final assault team included ethnic Tibetans and Han Chinese, as well as university students, but a larger team of 36 people took part in the climb.

"Mountaineering requires co-operation and carrying the Olympic torch to the top as well makes it much tougher, so the torchbearers need to be physically and mentally strong, and willing to sacrifice personal profits for the holy cause," Zhang said earlier in the day.

The main torch was carried through the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou Wednesday as part of a route that crosses every region and province of China before entering Beijing two days before the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

With files from the Associated Press