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Olympic flame set for Mt. Qomolangma ascent

By Xinhua,

Mt. Qomolangma Base Camp (Tibet) : China has stepped up preparations for the Olympic flame’s ascent of Mount Qomolangma as a 36-strong squad that will carry the flame atop was announced here Tuesday.

Zhang Zhijian, spokesman of the Chinese Mountaineering Team, named the team, which comprises 24 ethnic Tibetans, 10 Han Chinese, one from Tu ethnic group and one from Tujia ethnic group, at a press conference held in the Qomolangma media centre, some 5,040 metres above sea level.

“This well-organised team consists of experienced mountaineers and some university students who have climbing experience, so I believe they will augment each other in every respect of the ascent,” Zhang said.

The relay has been billed as the most ambitious of all time, with the highlight set to be an ascent of Mt. Qomolangma in May. When the special torch is relayed over the summit, the main relay will take a day off.

Mt. Qomolangma, the highest mountain in the world, is known as Mt. Everest in the West.

Beijing promised in its bidding reports seven years ago that the sacred flame of the Olympics would reach the world’s highest peak. It will be the first time for the Olympic torch relay to be held on the 8,850-metre high mountain.

The original Qomolangma mountaineering team came into being in November 2006 when over 70 climbers gathered separately in Beijing’s Huairou and southwest China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region.

The team include members of the Tibetan Mountaineering Guide School and university students with climbing experience. All the recruits must have at least climbed mountains with altitude of 6,500 metres or above at least once.

The two squads joined each other in March 2007 for further training and selection. In May 2007, a test-run went well as 17 climbers scaled Mt. Qomolangma and finished the high-tech lighting of the lantern and torch.

After that, the newly formed Chinese Mountaineering Team was preparing themselves for the historic ascent in Beijing, Yunnan Province and Tibet before they were short-listed for a 36-man squad.

“The final 36-man squad is picked up on basis of the climbers’ performance in training and test-runs,” said Zhang.

“They must be physically strong, passionate, and willing to make contributions to the Olympic movement.”

Zhang also confirmed that the well-known alpinist Wang Yongfeng would head the team.

Tibetan coaches Nima Ciren and Ci Luo, Chinese coach Luo Shen and Li Fuqing from Tu ethnic minority will assist Wang.

The team, with an average age of 30.2 years, will also see three women climbers – two Tibetans and one Han Chinese.

“The snowfall in the past couple of days had some impact upon our schedule but everything is under control. The trails and some of the tents have been destroyed, so the main job the torch climbers are doing now is fixing those damaged facilities,” said Zhang.

“I don’t want to be a fortune-teller. The mountaineers are in progress but the final day to ascend has to be weighed after all the factors are considered,” he said, when asked whether the day of ascent has been decided.

After two days of snowstorm, the weather conditions in the Himalayas look good for the following two days. According to some mountaineers, climbers need only four or five days to reach the top of the world’s tallest peak if everything is in place.

The torch has returned to the Chinese mainland at the beginning of this month and is being relayed in Chinese cities.

May and September are the most popular months for expeditions on Mt. Qomolangma.