Italians given flame for Turin

The Olympic Flame was handed over to Italian officials yesterday for the upcoming Winter Games in Turin. A ceremony, including skaters and actresses dressed as priestesses from ancient Greece, took place in the restored ancient stadium in Athens where the Modern Summer Olympics started in 1896. Ten days after the lighting ceremony at the birthplace of the Ancient Games in Olympia, the flame was brought into the marble, horseshoe-shaped stadium by Greek skater Anna Hadziathanassiou. At the end of a specially installed ice corridor, Hadziathanassiou passed the flame to Greek hurdler Fani Halkia. The 400-meter hurdles women’s champion from the Athens 2004 Olympics kindled a cauldron, lighting the flame for the February 10-26 Turin Games. Halkia was the last of 534 runners who carried the torch on a 2,006-kilometer (1,246-mile) relay through Greece. The flame was handed over to Turin organizing chief Valentino Castellani at a ceremony attended by Greek President Karolos Papoulias and the heads of the Greek and Italian Olympic committees. «The Olympic Flame is among the few universally recognized symbols of peace and friendship that go beyond cultural, religious and political backgrounds,» Castellani said. «It is now our responsibility to renew this powerful heritage we have received from the Ancient Games by taking the torch all over Italy and our neighboring countries.» The flame, contained in a lantern, was being kept overnight at the Italian Embassy in Athens before being flown to Rome today aboard an Italian military transport plane. The 11,300-kilometer relay through Italy – with forays into France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia – begins tomorrow. The relay will involve 10,000 torchbearers, gondolas, a Ferrari sports car and a cavalry regiment. On its first day in Italy, the torch – designed by Ferrari and Fiat engineers – will enter the Vatican for a blessing by Pope Benedict XVI. Soccer players Francesco Totti of AS Roma and Paolo Di Canio of Lazio will light each other’s torch in the relay. Other torchbearers include Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj, Italy soccer coach Marcello Lippi and all Italian gold medalists from the Athens and Salt Lake City Olympics. The final torchbearer, whose name has not yet been revealed, will light the flame at the opening ceremony in Turin on February 10. Former Italian ski great Alberto Tomba is considered the favorite for the honor.