CHAMBLEE, Ga. (AP) _ Thousands of people waving flags and snapping pictures greeted the Olympic torch in suburban Atlanta on Thursday, but the noisiest were the ones who surrounded Linda Lowery after she passed the flame.

Dozens of coworkers surrounded the Avondale High School track coach, exchanging hugs, taking snapshots and posing for pictures.

``It was great, a real honor,'' said Lowery, who was nominated as a torch bearer by the same people who cheered her. ``They nominated me as a community hero.''

The torch arrives at Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta at midday Friday.

Spectators who arrived in Chamblee two hours early found choice spots in the shade of small trees _ and a break from temperatures in the high 90s.

``It was very pleasant here _ very pleasant until all the people started packing in,'' said Charlotte Noble, 45, of Marietta. ``I work near here. Our employer said we could get time off.''

One boss brought his staff with him.

``I figure this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,'' said Tricia Miner, 25, of Dunwoody, who works at a finance company and stood on the sidewalk with two coworkers and a supervisor, Kurt Smithberger of Atlanta.

They were on their lunch hour and the torch was just over an hour late, so she wasn't sure whether they'd stay until it arrived.

``We'll stay for it,'' said Smithberger, 33.

Chamblee was the midpoint of a day that saw the torch depart from the top of Stone Mountain, once a major rallying spot for the Ku Klux Klan, and travel through Atlanta's eastern and northern suburbs, some of which are home to diverse populations of blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

Bob Cohit took the flame to the top of the mountain at 4:45 a.m., to the delight about 8,000 people in the park.

He lit a cauldron atop the mountain, and from that flame the torch relay began at 6:20. Runners carried the torch down the gentle west slope of the stone monolith.