With only 78 days until the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Olympic flame was today lit at Olympia during a ceremony organised by the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC). The lighting symbolically marks the beginning of the Torch Relay that will bring the flame to the Olympic Stadium in London on 27 July.
In line with tradition, the flame was lit, following the time-honoured ritual of using the sun's rays and a parabolic mirror, by a High Priestess - Ino Menegaki - at the Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia. The priestess then entered the Ancient Olympic Stadium, in a procession choreographed by Artemis Ignatiou, and used the flame to ignite the torch of the first runner of the Relay, Spyros Gianniotis. A British-born Greek open water swimming world champion and three-time Olympian, Gianniotis then transferred the flame to Alex Loukos, one of London 2012's young ambassadors in Singapore in 2005, who has Greek heritage and lives in the London borough of Newham.
The Olympic flame will now begin an eight-day journey across Greece, travelling to the island of Crete before going to Piraeus, Thessalonica, Xanthi and Larissa among other areas before arriving in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, on 17 May for the official Olympic Flame Handover Ceremony.
The Olympic flame will then be flown by plane to RNAS Culdrose in Great Britain on 18 May before the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay - presented by Coca-Cola, Lloyds TSB and Samsung - gets underway at Land's End on 19 May. The flame will visit more than 1,000 villages, towns and cities in the UK during its journey, covering some 8,000 miles over 70 days, as it is carried by 8,000 inspirational torchbearers. The flame will end its journey at the Olympic Stadium on 27 July for the lighting of the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony, signifying the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
In the presence of the President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Mr Spyros Capralos; the Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, Sebastian Coe; the Mayor of Ancient Olympia, Efthymios Kotzas; and the Chairman of the HOC's Olympic Torch Relay Commission, Spyros Zannias, IOC President Jacques Rogge said in his speech, "With this ceremony, we begin the final countdown to a dream that came to life seven years ago in Singapore, when London was selected to host the 2012 Games. The energy that passes from the sun to the Olympic flame will light a torch that will travel from this birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games to the country that invented modern sport and the spirit of fair play, heralding the opening of the 2012 London Games on 27 July.
"As the Olympic torch travels the width and breadth of the United Kingdom on its way to the Olympic Stadium in London, its powerful symbolism and the inspiring stories of many of the torchbearers will touch hearts and fire imaginations around the world,"
In recognition of the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect, the United Nations has approved a resolution calling on nations to build a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal. The resolution is the modern version of the ancient Olympic Truce - the Ekecheiria - that allowed safe passage to the Games by competitors and spectators. The Olympic Torch Relay that started today at Olympia for the London 2012 Olympic Games will allow the people of the world to be inspired by this message of peace and unity.
IOC President's full speech
London 2012 website