ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece, September 29 (R-Sport, David Nowak) – The flame for the Sochi Winter Games torch relay was lit Sunday at a traditional ceremony in Ancient Olympia, Greece.
Harnessing the rays of the sun in a parabolic mirror, an actress playing a high priestess kindled the flame, which was then to be passed to the first torchbearer, 18-year-old Alpine skier Yiannis Antoniou.
The torch now goes on its customary tour of Greece before being transported to Moscow for the first leg of a record-breaking 65,000-km journey starting on Red Square on October 7.
The ceremony, held at the site of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, was the first official engagement of new IOC president Thomas Bach since the German was voted to succeed Jacques Rogge at a congress in Buenos Aires earlier this month.
“The flame lit today by the Greek sun takes on (the) responsibility for a peaceful celebration here and now; the torches will carry it into the Olympic future,” said Bach, a former fencer who won team foil gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. “Thus the Olympic torch relays will be a messenger for the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect without any form of discrimination. In the coming months, this message will reach and inspire people from all walks of life,” the 59-year-old added.
In a speech to the crowd assembled at the site of the Sochi 2014 chief organizer Dmitry Chernyshenko said “there can be no greater privilege than to stand here in the spiritual home of the Olympic movement about to accept its most powerful symbol – the Olympic flame.”
“When Sochi 2014 embarked on our journey as a Candidate City nearly nine years ago, it was not just the vision of new stadiums and new infrastructure that motivated us. We were inspired by what this Olympic flame symbolizes. … Friendship; excellence; respect.”
The ceremony passed without difficulty after rehearsals on Saturday saw organizers unable to work up a fire and continue with an unlit torch.
After the flame arrives from Greece, it begins its odyssey in Moscow, spiraling out from the capital before heading east and looping around the Kamchatka Peninsula, down to Vladivostok and back across southern Siberia via Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake.
On its way through more than 2,900 towns in Russia’s 83 regions, the torch will make its way back into European Russia, eventually winding down to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the Opening Ceremony on February 7, when the Olympic cauldron will be lit from a torch that will have taken a trip into space.
An unlit torch will be carried to the International Space Station on November 7 and venture into space two days later before heading back to Earth on a return flight.
The relay will visit the remote, northwestern Plesetsk Cosmodrome and the country’s largest power plant at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam in south-central Siberia. One challenging section of the relay will see it go up Russia's highest mountain, Elbrus in the Caucasus, in temperatures that could be as low as -30 degrees Celsius.
Other stops are planned at Yasnaya Polyana, the estate about 200 kilometers south of Moscow where Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace; a kimberlite pipeline in the Sakha Republic; the Buddhist Ivolginsky temple near Ulan-Ude in the Buryatia Republic; the Curonian Spit, a sliver of sand dune shared by Russian Kaliningrad and Lithuania; the ninth-century Ryurikovo fort in Novgorod region; Kizhi, a fifteenth-century island settlement in Karelia; the sixteenth-century Tobolsk kremlin in Siberia’s Tyumen region; and ski resorts at Sheregesh, in Keremevo region, and Dombay, in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic. Kizhi and the Curonian Spit are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A host of athletes have signed up to take part in the relay, including hockey star Alex Ovechkin, pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva, footballer Alexander Kerzhakov and 12-time Olympic medal-winning gymnast Alexei Nemov.
More than 14,000 torchbearers and 30,000 volunteers will be involved in the journey as the torch travels by foot, car, train, plane and troika, a traditional Russian sled, among other things.
(The story was updated to include details of the relay.)