Image: Torchbearer Li Zhong Hua, left, holds the torch on the Great Wall.
Diego Azubel  /  EPA
Torchbearer Li Zhong Hua, left, holds the torch on the Badaling section of the Great Wall in Beijing.
updated 8/6/2008 10:35:30 PM ET 2008-08-07T02:35:30

The Olympic flame made one of its final relays Thursday on the eve of the Olympic Games opening ceremony as torchbearers carried it along the ancient Great Wall of China.

After a short ceremony at the landmark Badaling section of the heritage site, hundreds of fans waving yellow and red pompoms cheered on the first torchbearer, Li Zhonghua.

“If you don’t go to the Great Wall, then you’re not a real man,” said a Li, one of China’s most famous test pilots, who was quoting the late Chairman Mao Zedong.

The Great Wall is a UNESCO world heritage site, and was started in China’s first dynasty, the Qin Dynasty, in 220 B.C., to protect the court from nomadic invaders to the north, although large parts were completed in the Ming Dynasty starting in the 14th century.

Badaling is the tourist leg of the Great Wall. The 15-minute run along the ancient bricks brought the torch one step closer to ending its long and contentious global tour, which officially concludes Friday night with the lighting of the cauldron during the opening ceremonies of the 29th games.

Where the flame will rest when it arrives at Beijing National Stadium — known as the Bird’s Nest — remains a carefully guarded secret.

Eighteen runners carried the torch along the Great Wall as 2,008 gray pigeons were released in the air.

The spectacle marks one of the final steps in China’s seven years of preparations for the games — a journey that has cost billions of dollars and one that the communist government hopes will end with the country’s symbolic debut as a modern world power.

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