CULTURE

Phoebus Apollo reluctant to light the Flame of Hope

or the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, Apollo refused to give his rays for the flame. It happened at midday on June 29 on the hill of the Pnyx. American officials of Special Olympic International (SOI), led by Timothy Shriver, and Shanghai Deputy Mayor Zhou Taitong along with a large Chinese delegation, had gathered for the ceremony of lighting the Flame of Hope that will travel to China, reaching Shanghai in October. With permission from the International Olympic Committee, only the Special Olympics are entitled to use a reflector to ignite the flame from the sun’s rays. The Acropolis opposite was swathed in smoke from the nightlong blaze on Mount Parnitha. The sun was burning and Gianna Despotopolou, president of the Greek branch of SOI, had come prepared with straw hats and floral Chinese parasols for the women. There were large umbrellas for groups, but the shade of the pine and olive trees proved more popular. Natasa Karamanli, honorary president of the bid committee for the SOI Games in 2011, looked gorgeous in white, without a hat. Shriver, who is continuing the project founded by his mother, Eunice Shriver-Kennedy, in 1968 in memory of their sister, thanked Karamanli for attending. The sounds of a flute and percussion preceded the procession of priestesses. SOI athletes in long chitons and sandals were accompanied by girls from the Lyceum of Greek Women dressed as priestesses. The youngest priestess, Maria, stooped to light the flame, but it wouldn’t ignite. They brought another, but it wouldn’t light either. Maria burst into tears. Usually the flame lights at once, but the smoke that shrouded the hill blocked the sun’s rays. Eventually a priestess brought another flame that had been lit earlier, just in case, and Maria dried her eyes. The priestess handed the flame to the first torch bearer, an SOI athlete from China. «No more flames in Attica with my help,» was the message from Apollo. After Shanghai, the flame will travel to Peking for the 2008 Olympic Games and then to Athens for the 2011 SOI Games.