Originally created 06/16/04

Olympic torch passes through Mexico City



MEXICO CITY -- The Olympic flame that burned over Mexico City during the tumultuous 1968 Games was returned for a more peaceful tour of the city on Tuesday, part of a 26-nation ceremony ahead of the Athens Games.

World champion sprinter Ana Guevara was joined by 119 scholars, journalists, workers and athletes - including a woman who began her running career at age 80 - in carrying the torch through North America's largest city.

From Mexico City, the flame was headed overnight to Los Angeles, the first of four stops in the United States before its return to Greece for the Aug. 13 start of the Summer Olympics.

The flame - carried in an unimpressive lantern - arrived early Tuesday from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, aboard a Boeing 747 bearing the legend, "Pass the flame, unite the world."

It was carried on a bus, escorted by police and news media, to the Olympic Stadium at Mexico's National Autonomous University, at the start of the winding 85-mile route to the city center.

Norma Enriqueta Basilio, who became the first woman to light an Olympic flame at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, took the first lap with a metal cylinder torch lit from the flame.

"I am a privileged woman. ... I have realized so many of my dreams," she told reporters.

The stadium is where Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a clenched-fist protest against racial injustice after taking the gold and bronze in the 200 meters in 1968.

The route also takes a jog past the Plaza of the Three Cultures, where government officials trying to halt pre-Olympic demonstrations staged one of the most notorious massacres in Mexican history.

Troops killed dozens, perhaps hundreds of trapped student protesters 10 days before the start of the 1968 games.

"For my generation, the Olympics turned out to be very bitter," said German Dehesa, a 60-year-old intellectual who was one of those chosen to carry the flame on Tuesday.

For the final, evening leg into Mexico City's central plaza, Guevara, who was not yet born when the games took place here, was scheduled to hand the torch to 93-year-old masters sprint champion Rosario Ibarra.

Ibarra took up running at the age of 80 after a customer commented on how quickly she dashed around the city delivering newspapers.

Each of the runners carried the torch 440 to 500 yards.

City officials acknowledged that the staggered closure of streets would cause traffic problems across the metropolitan area of some 17 million people.

The torch is slated to pass through Atlanta, Ga., on Friday, June 18.