ATHENS: The Olympic Flame is alight and on its way . . . earlier rain at Olympia could not damped the Olympic spirit as the flame which will burn during London 2012 was lit at at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, birthplace of the Ancient Games.
Greek actress Ino Menegaki, dressed as a high priestess used a concave mirror to focus the sun’s rays and light a torch. The backup flame, used during Wednesday’s final rehearsal, was not needed – hopefully a good omen for the next 78 days until the Opening Ceremony in east London.
She subsequently entered the Ancient Olympic Stadium and used the flame to ignite the torch of the first runner, Spyros Gianniotis.
The British-born Greek swimmer and Olympic silver medallist was the first of 490 torchbearers to carry the flame across 2,900km in Greece. Second in line Alex Loukos, one of London 2012’s young ambassadors at the bid-winning IOC Congress in Singapore in 2005; Loukos, from a Greek family background, lives in the London Games’ host borough of Newham.
The flame will be handed over to the London organizers on May 17 in Athens’ Panathenian Stadium, where the first modern games were staged in 1896. It will then be flown by plane to Cornwall, in the south-west of England for the start on May 19 at Land’s End of the British stage of the relay.
More than 1,000 villages, towns and cities in the UK will be ‘touched’ by the torch on an 8,000-mile journey over 70 days. Unlike the two previous Summer Games, where the relay went chaotically around the world, it will leave the UK only once, to pass though Dublin on June 6.
Senior officials present for the flame-lighting ceremony included IOC president Jacques Rogge and LOCOG chairman Lord Seb Coe.
Rogge, for whom London will be his summer Games at the head of the Olympic movement, said: “With this ceremony, we begin the final countdown to a dream that came to life seven years ago in Singapore, when London was selected to host the 2012 Games.
“The energy that passes from the sun to the Olympic flame will light a torch that will travel from this birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games to the country that invented modern sport and the spirit of fair play, heralding the opening of the 2012 London Games.”
The United Nations has approved a resolution calling on nations to build a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal. The resolution is the modern version of the ancient Olympic Truce – the Ekecheiria – which offered safe passage to the Games for competitors and spectators.
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