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Retired swimmer Luo proud to be first Chinese torchbearer of Beijing Olympics
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19:10, March 24, 2008

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Luo Xuejuan, formerly dubbed the "Queen in the Pool" before her retirement from swimming last year, felt extremely proud of being the first Chinese to bear the flame of Beijing Olympic Games here on Monday.

"I'm so honored, and feel so challenged also," said Luo, who won the only swimming title for China in Athens four years ago at the women's 100 meters breaststroke event.

"As the first Chinese torchbearer, I deeply know that I'm not bearing it by myself but with all my countrymen," Luo added. The 24-year-old former Olympian will take over the torch from Greek Olympic taekwondo silver medallist Alexandros Nikolaidis, the first torchbearer, after his torch is lit by High Priestess Maria Nafpliotou at the Ancient Olympia archaeological site. Luo did not feel pity to miss the Olympic flame lighting ceremony at Hera Temple since she has to wait the flame heralding its relay on her point.

"I think I would feel the heat of the flame, though I could not see it being lit," she said. "I know the flame will be lit somewhere very near to me, be soon passed to me and from me to elsewhere."

"The Olympic passion of all Chinese will thus be passed all around the Greek soil and around the world," she added. Luo was crowned the world champion at both the women's 50 and 100 meters breaststroke in 2001 and 2003, but announced her retirement in early 2007 due to health problem.

"I've been searching the way of my own to do something for the Olympic Games on home soil beside vying for medals in the grand event as an athlete," said Luo, smiling. "Now I find it." "As a torchbearer, I think the Olympic spirit means pure, fair, competitive, and friendship, passion, peace and harmonious. "Wish the peace of the world," she concluded.

The torch will roam Greece for six days, staying one night each in Mesologi, Ioannina, Vera, Thessaloniki, and Lamia, after which it will reach Athens on March 30.

The last torchbearer, Greece's 2004 Olympic silver medallist in triple jump, Pigi Devetzi, will transport the torch to Panathenian Stadium on March 30, where it will be transferred to the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games.


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