DALTON, Ga. (AP) _ The Olympic flame got the red carpet treatment in the world's carpet capital Tuesday and became part of a new era at the old capital of the Cherokee nation.

Carl Bluckaert, chief executive officer of carpetmaker Beaulieu of America, carried the torch down an 18-inch runner of his company's red carpet, into downtown Dalton _ the heart of America's carpet industry.

At Dalton Green, a downtown park, Bluckaert lit the city's Olympic caldron before a crowd of 3,000.

Hundreds more people lined the street into and out of town as the torch was carried toward Resaca, the city where Union Gen. William T. Sherman started his march on Atlanta and across Georgia during the Civil War.

A succession of runners carried the torch through Calhoun to New Echota, the former capital of the Cherokee nation, now a state historic site.

There, at the old council house, a hewn-log building, the flame was passed to James Garland Eagle, deputy principal chief of the Oklahoma-based Cherokee nation, who carried it back out to the highway and the 20th century.

The Cherokee nation had been centered in north Georgia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee until the Indians were rounded up at gunpoint in 1838 and forced on an 800-mile trek to a new reservation in Oklahoma.

Hundreds died, but nearly 15,000 people completed the trip and rebuilt their nation, which now numbers 177,000 _ the second-largest tribe in the United States.

The torch's day started early _ actually late. It arrived in Gov. Zell Miller's hometown of Young Harris at 1:30 a.m., about 30 minutes behind schedule, early Tuesday.

The cheering crowd pressed close to the edge of a stage at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, where people had begun gathering hours earlier.

Some lit sparklers and candles.

``It's just gotten better and better as the night goes by,'' said Kris Kamleiter of Blairsville.

The flame arrived in Copperhill, Tenn., about 7:45 a.m. Copperhill Mayor Janelle Kimsey said it was a dream come true.

``Who would have thought we'd see athletes from all over the world walking down our streets and paddling our Ocoee River,'' she said. ``Several dreamers did and now it's a reality.''

As the torch left Copperhill, cars lined fog-shrouded U.S. 64, leading through the Cherokee National Forest to the Ocoee River, site of the whitewater slalom event July 26-28.

At the Ocoee Whitewater Center, the flame was passed to Janet Zeller, a U.S. Forest Service employee and 38-year whitewater paddler who has used a wheelchair since a paralyzing fall in 1984.

She wheeled down the serpentine, concrete path to a platform overlooking the Olympic course where the U.S. whitewater team was training.

``It's an overwhelming experience to be a link in the passage of the Olympic flame,'' Zeller said. ``There are just not words to describe how it feels.''

After a brief ceremony, she passed the flame to John Hudson, 16, of Ringgold, Ga., selected because of his founding of TeenCare, which provides services to the elderly through teen-age volunteers.

``He didn't sleep at all last night. This is such a joy for him,'' said his mother, Mary Cates Hudson.