Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev sprung a pleasant surprise yesterday by running the first leg of a six-hour relay, becoming the first Olympic torchbearer outside China.
"We are very delighted to welcome the first-ever coming of the Olympic torch to Kazakhstan," he said in an address atop the Medeu snow mountain at noon.
"The whole world is watching us I believe this global torch relay will begin a new page in the history of 21st century world sports.
"I hope it's a victory for the Olympic movement," he said.
Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiyun presented the torch to Nazarbayev after receiving it from BOCOG Executive Vice-President Jiang Xiaoyu.
Zhang himself carried the torch in the afternoon segment of the relay after receiving it from 50-year-old Kazakh singing legend Rosa Rymbaeva, whose ability to sing Chinese pop songs has long amazed the ambassador.
"Today is a festival here - many local schools are closed for the occasion - there's a festive atmosphere and a festive mood," Zhang told China Daily.
About 200,000 people in this city of 1.3 million residents turned out on the streets, gaily decorated with flags, banners, yurts and sculptures.
They shouted "Nihao, Zhongguo" (hello, China) to the relay entourage, who waved back in delight.
"This welcome is beyond our expectations. The Kazakh people are very passionate this passion will be a lifelong memory for many of our crew," Beijing Olympic Torch Relay (BOTR) spokesman Qu Yingpu said - his hand still sore from too much waving - on the sidelines of a massive celebration last night in Almaty as the relay in the city came to an end.
"It's a great start and a confidence booster I believe we will have a grand torch relay stop after stop, and not let down either the hopes of the people in China or the noble task of promoting the Olympic spirit," he said.
Almaty, host city of the 2011 Winter Asian Games, is in the race to host the Winter Olympics in 2014.
After the 32-hour torch relay in the central Asian country, the flame last night arrived in Istanbul - the second of 21 international destinations - where the relay will be held this afternoon.
Source: China Daily