THOUSANDS of children are preparing to welcome the Olympic Torch to North Tyneside next week.
And two former residents of the borough have already got their hands on it during its 70-day tour of Britain.
A total of 45 schools in the borough have so far confirmed that their students will line the torch relay route a week tomorrow as 39 torchbearers carry the flame through Whitley Bay, Cullercoats, Tynemouth, North Shields, Howdon and Wallsend.
The flame will arrive in North Tyneside at around 2.06pm on the Links near Whitley Bay’s mini-golf course, finishing its journey at 4.42pm at the junction of Station Road and Coast Road in Wallsend.
An estimated 7,200 pupils will line the route, with thousands more spectators expected to join them for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the torch head for the London Olympics.
Around 2,800 of the students turning out to cheer it on will be on the Links in Whitley Bay, 1,800 on the Broadway in Cullercoats and 1,100 on Tynemouth Green.
Activities along the route include a performance by North Tyneside Steel Band outside the Spanish City Dome in Whitley Bay, dance displays by members of the Phoenix Detached Youth Project outside their Front Street base in North Shields and a samba band concert by the Silver Sambanistas outside the old Co-op building in Wallsend.
Borough mayor Linda Arkley said: “Excitement is really starting to build ahead of the arrival of the Olympic flame.
“The enthusiasm of spectators around the country has been amazing to see, and I’m sure our residents will be keen to show their support too.
“Our schools are clearly already behind the event. The number of pupils that will be attending is amazing.”
Two former residents have already got their hands on the Olympic torch.
Shirley Addison, formerly Webb, got to see it as part of her work as schools ambassador for the games.
The hammer champion represented Great Britain at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and has also competed at European and World championships and the Commonwealth Games.
The 30-year-old, alias Battleaxe in the revival of Gladiators aired on Sky TV in 2008 and 2009, was brought up in Whitley Bay and Cullercoats before moving to Scotland.
Double Olympian and former GB athletics team captain Paul Dickenson was one of the torchbearers carrying the flame through Worcester.
A former pupil of John Spence High School in North Shields in its days as Tynemouth Technical School, he has lived in Hazelmere in Buckinghamshire for the last 38 years.
The North Shields-born 62-year-old works as a BBC sports commentator and will be one of the station’s team covering the London Olympics.
He said: “If the games generate as much excitement as the torch relay, it truly will be an exceptional Olympics.
“My early passion for sport came about as a result of my experiences at school.
“My PE teacher was Carlton Johnson, and he really sowed the seeds which defined my future sports career.”
People travelling in North Tyneside on the afternoon of next Friday are advised to allow extra time for their journeys to allow for the rolling road closures and diversions that will be in place.
For further details, visit www.northtyneside.gov.uk/olympictorchrelay or www.london2012.com/olympictorchrelay