NEWS

Paralympic Flame lit

The flame for the September 17-28 Paralympic Games was lit in Athens yesterday evening in a ceremony appositely held under an excellently preserved, 2,500-year-old temple dedicated to the only god in the ancient Greek pantheon to suffer from some form of physical disability. In further tribute to Hephaestus, the lame smith of the Olympian gods, the flame was lit by a spark from a hammer striking a piece of metal on an anvil inside the site of the Ancient Agora. The first athlete to carry the Paralympic torch – which is exactly the same as the wood-and-metal model used for the Olympics – at the beginning of the journey that will take in the whole of Attica was Costas Fykas, who won gold medals in the 50- and 100-meters freestyle swimming at the Sydney Paralympics. Fykas lacks one arm. Another 669 people will carry the Paralympic Torch over the next eight days until the opening ceremony. Last night, the flame was kept in the Herod Atticus Odeon, a Roman structure of the second century AD under the Acropolis. Today, it will traverse eastern and southern Athens, proceeding through Dafni, Hymettus, Ilioupolis, Argyroupolis, Hellenikon, Glyfada, Voula, Vari and Varkiza to reach Vouliagmeni, where it will stop for the night. Tomorrow, the flame will visit Koropi, Kalyvia, Saronida, Palaia Fokaia, Keratea and the Lavrion area. Yesterday evening’s ceremony in the Ancient Agora, a site whose history stretches back to Mycenaean times but which first flourished as a commercial and social center in the sixth century BC, was attended by President Costis Stephanopoulos, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, International Paralympic Committee head Phil Craven and Athens 2004 Organizing Committee President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. «The Paralympic Games offer a special cause for celebration,» Karamanlis said. «It is time to make our presence once again strongly felt in the stadiums, to applaud athletes’ participation and their efforts, and to share in their joy.» Some 4,000 athletes from all over the world will participate in the Games. Ticket sales are doing well so far, with over 180,000 having been bought. On an average day, around 11,000 tickets are sold, according to Athens 2004 officials who expect demand to peak next week. The Education Ministry has bought 50,000 tickets which it will give away to pupils at state schools.