The Olympic flame was handed to organizers of the 2018 Pyeongchang Games on Tuesday, and it will now head off on a 100-day journey across South Korea before the opening ceremony on February 9.
Pyeongchang organizing committee president Lee Hee-beom said the games would be an Olympics of “peace and harmony,” despite tension between the host and its reclusive nuclear-armed neighbor North Korea.
Dressed as a high priestess, actress Katerina Lehou led the 90-minute ceremony in Athens at the Panathenian Stadium, a horseshoe-shaped marble venue where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.
A cauldron was lit by Greek skier Ioannis Proios following performances by singers, dancers and acrobats from Greece and South Korea. The flame, placed in a lantern, was handed over to Greek Olympic Committee president Spyros Capralos, who passed it to Lee.
The South Korean leg of the relay will involve 7,500 torch-bearers and visit 17 cities and provinces across the country.
Preparations for the February 9-25 games are being held amid escalating tension on the Korean peninsula following nuclear and missile tests by North Korea. Lee has promised the games will be safe, but he made no mention of the crisis in his remarks in Athens.
“We are ready to welcome the world to Pyeongchang. The construction of competition and non-competition venues is already complete,” Lee said, moments before being handed a white-and-gold torch with the Olympic flame. “Pyeongchang 2018 will be an Olympic Games of peace and harmony.”
South Korean organizers said two back-up paraffin lanterns were also being used on the flight from Athens to Incheon, South Korea, and were being escorted by three fire wardens. [AP]