Chris Hoy starts Glasgow 2014 baton relay

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From the iron grip of Scotland’s most decorated sportsman, it will pass through thousands of hands on a journey around the globe, taking in the forests of Rwanda and sun-kissed South Pacific idylls.

Athletes, politicians and royalty gathered in the heart of London yesterday for the launch of the Queen’s baton relay, one of the most symbolic events surrounding Glasgow 2014.

Sir Chris Hoy carries the Commonwealth Games baton towards Buckingham Palace in London. Picture: Getty

Sir Chris Hoy carries the Commonwealth Games baton towards Buckingham Palace in London. Picture: Getty

On a day described as a “historic moment” for the 20th Commonwealth Games, the Queen placed a handwritten message inside the hand-crafted baton before sending it off on an epic trip spanning 248 days, 123,000 miles and 70 nations and territories.

The monarch’s words – penned at her desk at Balmoral this summer – will remain secret until the evening of 23 July next year, when the elegant titanium, elm and granite centrepiece is ushered into Celtic Park for the opening ceremony.

The build-up to the relay – a curtain-raiser to every Games since 1958 – began shortly after 11am yesterday when Sir Chris Hoy set off from Marlborough House, home of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Backed by the pipes and drums of the 1st Battalion the Scots Guards, and those of the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, Sir Chris wore the grey kilt he sported on his wedding day. Holding the baton aloft, he waved to well-wishers as he walked down the Mall.

Nearby, 200 VIPs waited on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. The delegation included First Minister Alex Salmond, newly-appointed Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and High Commissioners from Commonwealth nations.

Just before 11:15am, violinist Nicola Benedetti struck up a medley of Burns songs as Sir Chris made his way past the Queen Victoria Memorial to cheers from a crowd of several hundred.

At the palace, the six-times Olympic champion and Glasgow 2014 ambassador told of his pride at delivering the baton as its journey begins towards what he called the “friendly Games”.

“It brings it home just how soon the Games are going to be arriving,” he said. “It’s an exciting moment and I’m very proud.

“The baton is going to go around the whole Commonwealth, touching all the different nations and igniting enthusiasm and excitement for the Games.”

The Queen, wearing a pink coat, was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Imran Tunku of Malaysia, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, and Lord Smith, chairman of the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee.

Lord Smith said: “The significance of this event to Glasgow 2014 should not be underestimated. Years of preparation have gone into putting on the Games, and we now reach the moment when the countdown really begins.”

After placing her parchment inside the baton, the Queen handed it to Scottish sprint legend Allan Wells – who had carried the baton on the final leg of its relay in the 1986 Games in Edinburgh.

It was then passed on to a succession of athletes, volunteers, and schoolchildren, including double gold medallist swimmer Caitlin McClatchey, and Izzy Conway, 55, from Parkhead, the epicentre of regeneration works surrounding Glasgow 2014.

After an overnight trip to Scotland, the baton’s first event today is in Stirling, where the Scottish route and details of the 4,000 Scottish baton-bearers will be revealed. Later, it will be spirited off from Glasgow Airport aboard a flight to Delhi, the first stop of its international journey.

Mr Salmond said: “2014 promises the greatest-ever Games, and the relay will provide a fantastic celebration of sport and culture across the Commonwealth.”