Games torch in ancient Olympia burns brightly


The Olympic Games begin in 101 days in Paris, France, and the torch is lit today in Olympia, Greece.

Greece is the birthplace of the Games and the epic torch relay stretches from the Acropolis to the South Pacific.

Hundreds of dignitaries and spectators will attend the remarkable event in the small Peloponnese town in southwest Greece where the Olympic Games originated in 776 BC and where the ceremony is held every two years for the Summer and Winter Games.

Numbers were limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic during the Olympic Games in Tokyo and the Beijing Winter Games, but spectators can finally attend the torch relay events in large numbers again.

The Greek actress, Mary Mina, lit the Olympic Flame with a parabolically polished mirror before it was handed over to the first torch bearer, Stefanos Ntouskos, Olympic rowing champion in 2020.

This will be used as a backup measure in case the cloudy weather forecast for Tuesday prevents the mirror from igniting.

The ceremony will be held at the ruins of the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera, with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach among the dignitaries.

Amelie Oudea-Castera, French Minister of Sports, and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, will also attend the event.

“We hear nature, the rustle of the leaves. There is a holy silence,” Artemis Ignatiou, the choreographer and artistic director of the Olympic torch ceremony, told TV ERT about the ceremony’s dance performance.

“There are moments when we feel as if we are floating above the ground. It’s like traveling back in time,” she said.

The American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will sing the Olympic song.

The torch is a reference to the ancient Olympic Games when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games. The tradition was revived in 1936 for the Berlin Games.

According to sources in Greece, the retired French swimmer Laure Manaudou, who won a gold medal in the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, is expected to be France’s first torch bearer in Olympia.

During the 11-day relay on Greek territory, around 600 torchbearers will carry the flame over a distance of 5,000 km (3,100 miles) through 41 local authorities.

The Olympic flame will be handed over to the organizers of the Games in Paris on April 26 during a ceremony at the Panathenaic marble stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Nana Mouskouri, the 89-year-old Greek singer, will also be at the ceremony.

The flame leaves for France on April 27 aboard the 19th-century ship Obstructedwhich began sailing just weeks after the 1896 Games in Athens.

The Obstructeda historic French monument, undertook trading voyages to Brazil, Guyana and the Caribbean for nearly two decades.

France’s last surviving three-masted steel-hulled boat is expected to arrive in Marseille on May 8.

A total of 10,000 torchbearers will carry the torch across 64 French territories.

It will pass through 400 towns and thousands of tourist attractions during the flame’s 12,000 km (7,500 mile) journey through mainland France and overseas French territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

On July 26, it will form the centerpiece of the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics on the River Seine, the first time it has not been held in the Games’ main stadium.