CANBERRA, April 24 (Xinhua) -- The day of the visit of the Olympic torch dawned with thousands of people already on Canberra's streets, with red flags in their hands, draped over their shoulders and painted on their faces.
By the time Olympian Ian Thorpe ran the Beijing Games torch to the relay's end, people cheered as he lit the flame cauldron.
Everywhere the Olympic torch went, it was greeted by cheers and applause.
Thousands of people arrived in darkness to see the fireworks display at 06:15 a.m. local time (20:15 GMT Wednesday).
From 06:30 a.m. local time, over 20 hot balloons were launched from the lawns of Old Parliament House, providing a beautiful backdrop and signaling the start of the Olympic torch relay.
The crowd gathered at Reconciliation Place in anticipation of the official proceedings and first torch runners were entertained by a jazz band.
The first torchbearer, Aboriginal elder Tania Major, ran the torch down to Lake Burley Griffin and passed the flame to Elizabeth Patrick who was the cox of the women's rowing eight. They rowed across the Lake.
"I am so excited. I have waited for three hours. No, I should say I have waited for my lifetime for the Olympic torch relay," the 65-year-old man surnamed Gao from local Chinese community.
He drove seven hours from Melbourne with his son and daughter-in-law.
As many as 20,000 Chinese arrived by bus, car and plane to cheer on the torch, many waving large red Chinese flags.
The Canberra-based Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) ran a web-based campaign to encourage students from across the country to gather in the nation's capital for Thursday's Olympic torch relay.
CSSA organizer Zhang Rongan said he was thrilled so many students answered the call.
"We were thinking initially at the most 5,000, but it turns out more than 20,000 came," Zhang told reporters.
He said students paid their own travel costs to Canberra and weren't funded in any way by the CSSA.
Raymond Wang, a Chinese student, said more than 60 buses traveled from Melbourne.
Wang said he was proud of his country, and the Olympics were a good opportunity to show the world the "real China".
Chinese students were now looking forward to a "very successful" Olympics in August, CSSA's Zhang said.
"Today has a very strong festival atmosphere, with so many smiling faces. It is a festival for all Canberrans," said a middle-aged woman named Linda.
At the Olympic torch relay opening ceremony, a leader from the indigenous Australian community welcomed Olympic flame and the Chinese guests to this peaceful land. "The sacred flame symbolizes peace and harmony," he said.
The Commonwealth Park was the relay's end. A policeman said he was quite impressed by people's strong anticipation of the Olympics.
"The Olympics belongs to the whole mankind. All the Canberrans are sharing this historic moment today," said the policeman who declined to be named.
The Canberra leg of the Torch Relay covered 16 kilometers around the landmarks of the city center and included 80 torchbearers.