BEIJING - The torch relay for the 26th World University Games kicked off at Peking University on Wednesday, marking the 100-day countdown to the opening of the competition that is also known as the Universiade.
Vice-Premier Li Keqiang lit the torch from a cauldron at a ceremony held in front of the university's Centennial Memorial Hall.
"I declare the start of the torch relay for the 26th Summer Universiade," Li said after handing the torch to the first relay runner, Xing Yan'an, a Peking University postgraduate who was a former member of China's national athletic team and top-level hurdler.
A total of 54 torchbearers, mostly university students, took part in a 3.1-km relay around the campus as the university celebrated its 113th birthday on Wednesday.
Hu Kai of Tsinghua University, who was crowned the men's 100-meter champion at the 2005 Izmir Universiade and who became the first Chinese male athlete to win the 100m dash at international tournaments, anchored the relay's first stop.
"To highlight the Universiade's characteristics of youth and innovation, we decided to return the torch relay to the campus, and more than half of our torchbearers are youngsters and students," said Yuan Chengyong, an official with the organizing committee.
Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan and former Olympic champions Deng Yaping and Yang Wei also passed on the torch during the extravaganza.
"I feel very proud to be a torchbearer of the Shenzhen Universiade," said Deng, a table tennis legend. "China is becoming more experienced at holding international sporting events and I believe the World University Games will be another success."
The southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is hosting the games, which start on Aug 12, and an estimated 13,000 athletes from more than 180 countries and regions will take part in the 12-day event.
The 38-year-old Deng, who claimed four gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, said the Universiade should be used as a platform for students worldwide to forge new friendships and learn more about each other.
"The Universiade is a grand occasion for the youngsters and I hope everybody will enjoy themselves while at the same time performing at their best," said Deng. "It's also a great chance for young athletes to prepare for the London Olympics.
"I think the most important thing is for foreign students to get a deeper understanding of China and Chinese culture and for the Chinese to learn from their foreign friends as well."
The flame, which was kindled on April 25 at Tsinghua University in Beijing, will arrive at its second stop - Shenzhen University - on May 10 and will be carried through Guangzhou University Town on May 15. The torch will also be passed around the city of Shenzhen from Aug 10 to Aug 12.