ATLANTA -- Five years after it was extinguished at the end of the Centennial Games, the Olympic flame returns to the United States on Tuesday for the start of a two-month, 46-state journey to Salt Lake City.
The torch arrives in Atlanta from Athens early Tuesday on a jumbo jet painted specifically for the occasion.
The torch relay will visit 80 American cities, with about 11,500 people carrying it more than 13,500 miles before its arrival in Utah for the Winter Games' opening ceremony Feb. 8.
The only states the Olympic torch will not visit are Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii.
"We are sending the holy flame that was lit in Ancient Olympia to the United States with our greatest wishes during these difficult times," Lambis Nikolaou, head of the Greek Olympic Committee, said Monday during a ceremony in Athens.
After the plane lands, Nikki Stone, a gold medalist in women's aerials at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, will hand the torch to gold medal speed skater Bonnie Blair.
The torch's first day in Georgia will include a ceremony at Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. The torch will head for Greenville, S.C., on Tuesday night.
Among the torch bearers will be Lyz Glick, the wife of Jeremy Glick, one of the passengers aboard United Airlines 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, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City organizers. "We are extremely excited to have the Olympic flame come back to U.S. soil after a five and a half year absence."
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 was designed to withstand weather ranging from -40 degrees to 80 degrees, including gusty wind and heavy rain, said Shelton, who had only eight months to design it.
"I never would have agreed to do it if I hadn't been down this path before," he said.
The torch has a glass crown designed to simulate ice, with the flame emanating from deep within.
The torch also will go airborne three more times on its route to Utah: Miami to Mobile, Ala., on Sunday; Milwaukee, to Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 6; and from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, and then to Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 24.
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Salt Lake Olympics site: http://www.saltlake2002.com