By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver

February 5 - Britain's Sir Matthew Pinsent (pictured) carried the Olympic flame as it arrived to the jubilation of thousands in the ski resort of Whistler, the first Olympic 2010 venue stop for the torch relay.

The British Columbia town erupted in a party mood, a week before the Winter Games begin here and ahead of the start of alpine skiing events there on February 13.

Sir Matthew, who won four Olympic gold medals in a career that started at Barcelona in 1992 and is now working for the BBC, was one of 14 international torchbearers chosen by Vancouver organisers.

"I finished my sports career with a gold medal in Athens, beating a Canadian crew by 8/100ths of a second," he said.

"It therefore came as somewhat of a surprise that I was asked to carry the flame this year!

"It is something I am proud to do and it is testament to the Olympics and its values that the men I raced with and against that day in Athens remain my strongest friends today."

But he was given an ecstatic welcome by the thousands of spectators who lined the route.

"Matthew Pinsent is one of only five athletes in Olympic history to earn a gold medal in four consecutive Olympic Games," said  Michele McKenzie, the President and chief executive of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

"Sir Matthew is an honoured guest and we're thrilled to have him join in the excitement."

The arrival of the torch had been a long time coming.

Vancouver and Whistler were awarded the Olympics and Paralympics in 2003 after failed bids for the 1968, 1972 and 1976 Games.

"After seven years of hard work, we’re ready," Mayor Ken Melamed said.

It was welcomed in Whistler on the 99th day of the torch relay and was carried into Skiers Plaza by a member of this year’s Canadian Olympic team, a former Canadian Olympic icon and an Olympic hopeful.

Freestyle skier Julia Murray - daughter of the late Dave Murray, a member of the Crazy Canuks downhill racing team of the late 1970s and early 1980s - handed the torch over to another Crazy Canuk, Steve Podborski (pictured), who won a bronze medal at the 1980 Olympics and became the first North American to win the World Cup downhill title in 1982.

Podborski skied the torch down a slope and passed it on to student Tyler Allison of Whistler, who hopes for future Olympic glory.

By the time the torch is used to light the Olympic cauldron here next Friday, more than 12,000 runners will have carried the torch through 1,036 Canadian communities and over more than 28,000 miles since it arrived in the country last October, making it the longest domestic relay in Olympic history.

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