NEWS

Olympic Flame is lit

Clouds that hung over the ancient grove where the Olympics were born parted before noon yesterday and the sun’s bright light erupted into the flame that will travel across the world to spread the message that the Olympics are coming home to Greece this year, that the Athens Games will begin on August 13. An actress dressed as an ancient priestess, surrounded by several other young women in similar dress, held a torch in a concave mirror which concentrated the light of the sun. «Apollo, god of the sun and god of the idea of light, send us your rays to light the torch for Athens,» Thalia Prokopiou said and the torch burst into flame. After a slow procession and brief dance, the flame was used to light the torch of the first runner in the relay, who was applauded by an enthusiastic crowd in the ancient stadium. More than 11,000 runners will carry the flame before the Games begin. Organizers, who have been plagued by delays in many major construction projects, breathed a sigh of relief at the flawless ceremony amid the ruins of Ancient Olympia, reading wider symbolism into the symbolic ceremony. «It was in Olympia that everything began, and today that everything is going to begin for Athens 2004,» International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge said. «What better image of universality can the Olympic Games offer than to organize the first global Olympic relay? The flame will travel to five continents, which symbolize the five Olympic Rings,» he said. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose conservatives came to power on March 7 and who has taken overall charge of the preparations himself, was confident of the Games’ success. «In 141 days, the flame will light the sky of Attica, at the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony,» he said. «Together all the Greeks send a message to the whole world: We invite you and we are expecting you at this great celebration of Sport and Culture. We invite you to the best and safest Olympic Games ever held.» Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who heads the organizing committee for Athens 2004, stressed that this was the first global relay. «Today we light the flame which will truly light up the world,» she said. Over the next week, the flame will be carried across the Peloponnese and some islands near Athens. It will be kept at the Panathenaic Stadium until June 3. It will then start its «international» leg by being flown to Australia and all prior Summer Games sites, the Balkans and Cyprus before returning to Greece in early July. A nationwide relay will end with the start of the Games. Unprecedented security is planned for the Games.