Flame brought to life at site of ancient Games before setting off on Olympic Torch Relay that will cross Greece, Switzerland and Brazil.
Eleftherios Petrounias lit the Rio 2016 torch from the Olympic flame held by Katerina Lehou (Photo: Rio 2016/André Luiz Mello)
The Olympic flame for the Rio 2016 Games is now burning brightly. In an evocative lighting ceremony on Thursday (21 April) in the Greek town of Olympia, birthplace of the Games, an actress playing the part of a high priestess used a parabolic mirror to light the flame directly from the sun’s rays in accordance with ancient tradition.
After the lighting ceremony, the Olympic torch has embarked on a seven-day relay that will take it across Greece. Next week, the torch will travel to Switzerland before journeying to Brazil in early May for a 95-day tour ahead of the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.
“Rio is ready to deliver history. Let’s live this dream together”
Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman in Olympia
On 5 August, at the climax of the opening ceremony in the Maracanã stadium in Rio, the flame that came to life in Olympia on Thursday will be used to light the Olympic cauldron for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.
The ceremony featured a choreography inspired by ancient Greece (Photo: Getty Images/Milos Bicanski)
“Rio de Janeiro with the support of all Brazilians will provide a spectacular stage to showcase the best of the human spirit,” said Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “The Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and their passion for sport.”
“The torch relay will spread the message of our shared humanity to all people of the beautiful country of Brazil, a nation that is built on the idea that its strength comes from uniting all of its cultural richness”
Thomas Bach, IOC President
Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias was the first to carry the Rio 2016 torch. Petrounias said this week that he nearly crashed his car when hearing that he had been chosen for the historial role. The 25-year-old world champion then passed the flame to Brazil’s double volleyball champion Giovane Gávio, who had promised to savour the moment and set off walking rather than running for his stretch of the relay.
“We in Brazil understand our responsibility as guardians of this Olympic Flame. We promise to deliver, to stage Games that will unite and inspire the world”
Carlos Arthur Nuzman, Rio 2016 President
Spyros Capralos, President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee of Greece said he was sure the Brazilians would host ‘marvellous’ Games. “The current worldwide situation makes it imperative to bring down any walls keeping us apart, and build bridges instead, bringing people together in peace and harmony,” he said.
Brazilian volleyball legend Giovane Gávio enjoyed his moment as the second torchbearer (Photo: Rio 2016/André Luiz Mello)
The Olympic flame was lit by actress Katerina Lehou, who played the role of a high priestess of the goddess Hera. Lehou was supported by a retinue of priestesses wearing costumes created by designer Eleni Kyriacou, a pupil of Alexander McQueen.
After the lighting ceremony, a procession moved on to the ancient stadium, where, dressed in archaic costumes, priestesses and male dancers performed a choreography inspired by Ancient Greece to the sounds of flutes, lyres, bagpipes and percussive instruments.
A symbol of peace
The lighting of the Olympic flame always follows elaborate rituals that are part of an evocative tradition, connecting the ancient Games, first held in Olympia in 776 BC, with the modern Games that started in 1896. In ancient times, the flame would be carried across Greek territory, heralding an Olympic truce that halted all wars. In modern times, the Olympic flame is a powerful symbol of peace, union and friendship between peoples.
The Ancient Greeks considered fire to be a divine element. By lighting the flame using the rays of the sun and a ‘skaphia’, a type of mirror, its purity was ensured.
The torch will be carried around Greece for seven days, reaching the majority of the country, including the iconic town of Marathon and the islands of Zante and Corfu, covering 2,235km (1,388 miles) and visiting seven archaeological sites. In total, 450 people will carry the torch in the Greek section of the relay. One of those will be a so-far unnamed Syrian refugee who has claimed asylum in Greece. At the camp for refugees and migrants in Eleonas, Athens, the Syrian will bear the torch in the name of all refugees.
The Olympic torch will be formally handed over to Brazil at a ceremony next Wednesday (27 April) at the Panathinaiko Stadium in the Greek capital, the venue for the 1896 Olympic Games.
After leaving Greece, the torch will go to Geneva, Switzerland, for a ceremony at the United Nations. It will then go on display at the nearby Olympic Museum in Lausanne, home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Brazilian section of the relay will begin on 3 May in capital city Brasília. About 12,000 torch bearers will take part as the relay passes through more than 300 towns and cities during the 95-day event that will culminate at the opening ceremony at the Maracanã stadium, when the flame is used to light the Olympic cauldron.
Source: Rio 2016