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Olympic flame for Sochi Games lit in Greece

NHL star Ovechkin first Russian to carry torch
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A scene from Sunday's flame-lighting ceremony. -courtesy of Hellenic Olympic Committee

The Olympic flame-lighting ceremony for the 2014 Winter Games was held Sunday in Olympia, on the Peloponnese, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games.

Ten kneeling women, dressed as ancient Greek priestesses, led by the high priestess, received permission from the Olympian gods to light the Olympic flame -- a symbol of the fire that Prometheus gave humans. At the ceremony, the role of high priestess was played by Greek actress Ino Menegaki.

The flame, lit by a parabolic mirror from the sun's rays, will now travel through Greece to its capital of Athens, and on Oct. 5, at Olympic Stadium, it will be transferred to Russia.

Members and guests of Olympia enjoyed a theatrical performance in the style and atmosphere of ancient Greece.

"This event is the best promotion of Greece to the rest of the world, and it reminds all that the Greeks are worthy keepers of their Olympic legacy," Spyros Kapralos, the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, told the news agency RIA Novosti.

The honor of being the first torchbearer fell to Greek skier Giannis Antoniou, who was selected by his country's national Olympic committee. The ceremony was attended by Thomas Bach, the newly elected president of the International Olympic Committee, and other officials.

"The Olympic torch relay 'Sochi 2014' symbolizes the spirit of sportsmanship and the values of the Olympic movement. The flame, traveling across Russia in the hands of 14,000 torchbearers, will be the messenger of peace and the Olympic values to residents and spectators throughout the world," Bach said at a press conference.

"Arrival of the Olympic flame to Sochi on February 7 next year will not be the end of the history but only the beginning. After all, the best athletes from around the world will continue the relay race, inspiring the world with their performances at the Games. On behalf of the International Olympic Committee, I wish big success to the Sochi 2014 Torch Relay!" he concluded.

The president of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Organizing Committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko, believes the Olympic torch relay will unite millions of people in Russia.

"The Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in Greece is the starting point for Sochi 2014 Torch Relay, which will be the biggest in the history of Olympic movement. It will overcome more than 65,000 kilometers and will be a relay for all the country," Chernyshenko said.

Alex Ovechkin, a professional ice hockey player and the captain of the Washington Capitals, made the trip to Olympia to be the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch.

"I'm very excited, and I've been waiting for this day since I got the news that they invited me, because it was pretty hard to do that with the [NHL] schedule and all that stuff. It's a very big honor for me to be the first guy," Ovechkin told media.

This Olympic torch relay will be the longest in history, passing through about 3,000 cities and towns in Russia and lasting 123 days. The flame will visit the North Pole, go down to the bottom of Lake Baikal, rise to Mount Elbrus, travel on the Russian "troika" and be carried by a team of reindeer.

But its most awe-inspiring trip will be to outer space.

Russian astronauts will bring an unlit Olympic flame to the International Space Station, and from there, they will lift off into space Nov. 7. Two days later, they will take the flame on a space walk.

After that, the Olympic flame will come down to Earth and continue its trip across the vast expanses of Russia, to arrive at the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Olympics on Feb. 7, 2014.

In total, 14,000 torchbearers and about 30,000 volunteers from 83 regions of Russia will take part in the relay. Almost 130 million people will be able to witness the event.

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