Olympic flame atop world's highest summit

 

Chinese mountaineers carried the Olympic flame to the peak of the world's highest mountain at around 9:10 a.m. (0110 GMT) on May 8, fulfilling the promise Beijing made in its Olympic bid.

The scaling of 8,844.43 meter Mt. Qomolangma, known as Mt. Everest in the West, which straddles Nepal and China's Tibet Autonomous Region, added to what has already been a historic Olympic Torch Relay and bonded mountaineering to the Olympics for the first time since its birth as a sport in 1786.

A collective triumph of mountaineers and technicians from various Chinese ethnic groups, the Mt. Qomolangma leg of the Torch Relay gave new meaning to the word "higher" in the Olympic motto and to Beijing's concept of a "High-tech Olympics."

Led by 45-year-old veteran alpinist and head coach Wang Yongfeng, the squad was composed of 36 members, including three females, some students and five coaches. The average age of the group was 30.2 and each member had climbed to an elevation of at least 6,000 meters before.

The ascent officially began when the team left Base Camp, which is 5,200 meters above sea level, for the 6,500 meter point 28 kilometers away, said a spokesman. Heavy snowfall on May 2 and 3 halted the climb.

After the weather turned favorable, the team continued on the remaining 20 kilometers to the summit, stopping at various camps along the way.

A total of 19 mountaineers were selected from among the squad to bring the Olympic flame from the Attack camp -- at the altitude of 8,300 meters -- to the summit of Mount Qomolangma.

The summit assault started at around 1:45 a.m. on May 8 and the team reached the peak at 9:10 a.m.

Training for the mission began 16 months ago. In November of 2006, over 70 climbers started training both in Beijing's Huairou County and in the Tibet Region; joint training was conducted in March of 2007.

Keeping the torch burning through bad weather, low pressure and high altitude was a tremendous technical achievement. In a test run on May 9, 2007, 17 Chinese climbers scaled Mt. Qomolangma with a flame protected in a high-tech torch, designed by a Chinese aerospace company, The success of the test run assured organizers that the Olympic torch would remain lit during the actual Torch Relay.

After the test run, the newly formed Chinese Mountaineering Team prepared themselves for the Olympic Torch Relay climb in Beijing, Yunnan Province and Tibet.

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