‘Powerful message’ in torch relay

Amid lofty speeches, historical references and pleas for peace, a clutch of Greek officials and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge yesterday unveiled the torch relay for the 2004 Games. The relay, under the rubric «Pass the Flame, Unite the World,» will go through the five inhabited continents and all prior Olympic cities on a determinedly roundabout journey from Ancient Olympia to Maroussi. The flame will be lit on March 25, some four-and-a-half months before the Games. Aside from its symbolic link with Greece’s national day and the 1896 Games, this could give the government a needed boost in elections due by April. Even so, political references were veiled. Athens 2004 head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki called the relay «a mosaic of peace and hope;» Foreign Minister George Papandreou added that «sport can’t enforce peace, but it can inspire peace.» Rogge, one of the torchbearers, called the relay «one of the defining moments» of any Games. After a brief initial leg from the Peloponnese to Aegina and Athens, the flame will burn for two months at the Panathenaic Stadium. Then it will go (on June 3) to Sydney, from where it will be flown, driven, cycled, sailed, wheelchaired and jogged through 27 countries and 34 cities, ending in Nicosia. On July 9, it will start a 35-day trip through 174 Greek destinations, all 54 prefectures, and famous spots from Meteora to Myconos. Some 11,300 runners will do 400-meter stints. The first and last spots remain secret, while the first foreign runner will be Cathy Freeman, who lit the cauldron in Sydney. An Olympic cauldron was inaugurated at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam, while the first torch relay was from Olympia to Berlin in 1936.