Olympic Torch lit in traditional ceremony in Ancient Olympia

The Olympic flame for the Rio 2016 Games is now burning brightly. In an evocative lighting ceremony on Thursday (April 21st) in the Greek town of Olympia, birthplace of the Games, an actress playing the part of a high priestess used a parabolic mirror to light the flame directly from the sun’s rays in accordance with ancient tradition.

After the lighting ceremony, the Olympic torch embarked on a seven-day relay that will take it across Greece. Next week the torch will travel to Switzerland before reaching Brazil in early May for a 95-day tour ahead of the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.

On August 5th, at the climax of the opening ceremony in the Maracanã stadium in Rio, the flame that came to life in Olympia on Thursday will be used to light the Olympic cauldron for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.

“Rio de Janeiro with the support of all Brazilians will provide a spectacular stage to showcase the best of the human spirit,” said Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “The Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and their passion for sport.”

Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias was the first to carry the Rio 2016 torch. Petrounias said this week that he nearly crashed his car when hearing that he had been chosen for the historial role. The 25-year-old world champion then passed the flame to Brazil’s double volleyball champion Giovane Gávio, who had promised to savour the moment and set off walking rather than running for his stretch of the relay.

Spyros Capralos, President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee of Greece said he was sure the Brazilians would host ‘marvellous’ Games. “The current worldwide situation makes it imperative to bring down any walls keeping us apart, and build bridges instead, bringing people together in peace and harmony,” he said.

After the lighting ceremony, a procession moved on to the ancient stadium, where, dressed in archaic costumes, priestesses and male dancers performed a choreography inspired by Ancient Greece to the sounds of flutes, lyres, bagpipes and percussive instruments.

The torch relay

The torch will be carried around Greece for seven days, reaching the majority of the country, including the iconic town of Marathon and the islands of Zante and Corfu, covering 2,235km (1,388 miles) and visiting seven archaeological sites. In total, 450 people will carry the torch in the Greek section of the relay. One of those will be a so-far unnamed Syrian refugee who has claimed asylum in Greece. At the camp for refugees and migrants in Eleonas, Athens, the Syrian will bear the torch in the name of all refugees.

The Olympic torch will be formally handed over to Brazil in a ceremony on Wednesday  April 27th at the Panathinaiko Stadium in the Greek capital, the venue for the 1896 Olympic Games.

After leaving Greece, the torch will go to Geneva, Switzerland, for a ceremony at the United Nations. It will then go on display at the nearby Olympic Museum in Lausanne, home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Brazilian section of the relay will begin on May 3rd in capital city Brasília. About 12,000 torch bearers will take part as the relay passes through more than 300 towns and cities during the 95-day event that will culminate at the opening ceremony at the Maracanã stadium, when the flame is used to light the Olympic cauldron.

SOURCE: Rio 2016 Offical web site (www.rio2016.com)
PHOTO: Getty Images/Milos Bicanski Actress Katerina Lehou played a high priestess of Hera in the lighting ceremony