Olympic flame ceremony to be ‘immaculate, simple’

Local Olympic officials promised the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Games would be held with full splendor in Ancient Olympia, an area ravaged by wildfires last year. «We have secured all the conditions for an immaculate and simple ceremony, as history, tradition and the site dictate,» Greek Olympic Committee President Minos Kyriakou said yesterday. The flame will be lit on March 24 beside the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera by an actress dressed as an ancient Greek priestess. It will then start its 137,000-kilometer journey to Beijing. The first torchbearer in the relay will be Alexandros Nikolaidis, who won a silver medal in taekwondo’s over-80-kilogram category at the 2004 Athens Games. Nikolaidis, who described his allotted role in the lighting ceremony as the «greatest honor in my life,» will hand the flame to Luo Xuejuan, who won China’s only swimming gold medal in Athens. Triple-jumper Piyi Devetzi, who in her most recent accomplishment won a silver medal at the world indoor championships last weekend, will be the last Greek athlete to carry the torch in Greece before it continues its journey to Beijing. IOC President Jacques Rogge will attend the lighting ceremony with Greek President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. Kyriakou said the flame would be carried through Greece for a week – over 1,528 kilometers by 645 torchbearers. It will make a stopover at the Acropolis before being handed over to Chinese officials at the restored ancient stadium where the first Modern Olympics were held in 1896. Forests around the birthplace of the ancient Olympics were devastated by wildfires that killed 66 people and ravaged southern Greece last year. The flames were stopped on the fringe of the ancient site. More than 30,000 trees and shrubs have since been planted around the site. (AP, Kathimerini)

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