The Olympic torch was returned to the United States Tuesday for the first time since the 1996 summer Games in Atlanta, where it was to begin a 46-state tour to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The torch arrived before dawn at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport from Athens, Greece, on a Delta Air Lines jumbo jet painted specifically for the occasion. Olympic gold medalists Nikki Stone and Bonnie Blair delivered the torch and greeted Leo Mullin, Delta's chairman and chief executive.
"This is a proud, proud day," Mullin said. "Great things are going to happen from now on."
The torch relay averaging 416 miles per day will visit 80 American cities with about 11,500 people carrying it more than 13,500 miles before its arrival in Utah for the Feb. 8 opening ceremony.
Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii are the only states not on the torch route.
Among the torch bearers will be Lyz Glick, the wife of Jeremy Glick, one of the passengers aboard United Flight 93, which crashed Sept. 11 in Pennsylvania after passengers apparently struggled with hijackers. Glick is scheduled to carry the torch Dec. 23 in New York City.
"The torch relay will hold a unique significance for all of us in the United States and around the world, and because of September 11th, new significance," said Caroline Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City organizers."
The 3-pound torch was designed by Sam Shelton, a professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, who also designed the 1996 Summer Olympics' torch. It has a glass crown designed to simulate ice, with the flame emanating from deep within.
It was constructed to withstand weather ranging from minus 40 degrees to 80 degrees, including gusty wind and heavy rain, Shelton said.
By Justin Bachman
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