The Olympic torch for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro has been lit in southern Greece.
Actress Katerina Lehou performing the role of high priestess lit the torch by using the sun’s rays.
The flame will be taken by various runners on an international relay that will culminate at the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 5.
The ritual was established 80 years ago for the Berlin Games, based on a ceremony in Ancient Olympia where games were held for more than 1,000 years.
Katerina Lehou offered a mock prayer to Apollo, the old Greek god of light and music, at April 21ceremony.
Wearing a long pleated robe, the actress knelt solemnly to the ground and lit the torch within a few seconds by using a concave mirror to catch the sunlight.
Photo NBC News
Katerina Lehou then delivered the flame to Greek world gymnastics champion Eleftherios Petrounias, the first runner in a torch relay that will conclude at the opening ceremony in Rio’s Maracana Stadium.
The chief organizer of the 2016 Olympic Games, Carlos Nuzman, promised to “deliver history”. He said the Olympics would unite Brazil, which is beset by political and economic crises.
“[The torch lighting] brings a message that can and will unite our dear Brazil, a country that is suffering much more than it deserves in its quest for a brighter future,” Carlos Nuzman said in his speech.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was forced to cancel her trip to ancient Olympia because of the impeachment threat she faces.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said the flame was “a timeless reminder that we are all part of the same humanity” despite the difficulties that Brazil is facing.
“Rio de Janeiro… will provide a spectacle to showcase the best of the human spirit. In just a few weeks the Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and their passion for sport,” Thomas Bach said.
Before the flame arrives in South America it will begin a six-day relay across Greece, passing through the town of Marathon – which gave its name to the long distance race – as well as a camp for refugees and migrants in Athens, the International Olympic Committee has said.
The torch is due to arrive in Brazil on May 3 for a relay across the country, traveling through hundreds of cities and villages in every Brazilian state.
The Olympic torch will be carried by about 12,000 bearers.
2004 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabaeva, Vladimir Putin’s alleged girlfriend, may be selected to light the Olympic Torch at the opening ceremonies in Sochi.
The lighting is traditionally performed by a prominent person from the host country, so Alina Kabaeva would certainly qualify on her own merits.
Rumors of Alina Kabaeva’s relationship with Vladimir Putin – who has been single since his divorce last year – have never been officially confirmed.
Alina Kabaeva, Vladimir Putin’s alleged girlfriend, may be selected to light the Olympic Torch at the opening ceremonies in Sochi
Vladimir Putin, for his part, dismissed the conjecture about Alina Kabaeva possibly lighting the torch.
“I’m aware of this [the speculation], I was told of this by [Kremlin spokesman] Dmitry Peskov. These are the usual red herrings,”News.com.au quotes President Vladimir Putin as saying while he toured a nature reserve near Sochi.
“We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world, and I am not going to interfere in this process,” Vladimir Putin said in comments broadcast on state television.
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky are taking the torch for the Sochi Winter Olympics on its first historic spacewalk, ahead of next year’s games.
Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky took the unlit version of the torch through the hatch of the International Space Station (ISS) at 14:34 GMT.
Live footage showed Oleg Kotov waving the torch 261 miles above Earth.
A three-man crew took the torch up to the space station on a Russian Soyuz rocket on Thursday.
The rocket blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan crewed by three cosmonauts – Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata from Japan.
The crew handed the Olympic symbol to Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, who were already on the orbiting station ahead of Saturday’s spacewalk.
Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky are taking the torch for the Sochi Winter Olympics on its first historic spacewalk
The two cosmonauts took pictures and videos of each other holding the torch using helmet cameras.
The torch, which was tethered to their bulky spacesuits, was to spend up to six hours in open space.
In addition to the photo opportunity, Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky were carrying out some maintenance on the orbiting station.
The event is seen as part of a rebranding exercise by Russia designed to portray it as a strong, modern country.
“Our goal here is to make it look spectacular,” Oleg Kotov said earlier this week.
“We’d like to showcase our Olympic torch in space. We will try to do it in a beautiful manner. Millions of people will see it live on TV and they will see the station and see how we work.”
The Olympic torch has been carried into space twice before – in 1996 and 2000 – but it has never left a spaceship. It is not being lit aboard the space station as this would consume oxygen and pose a risk to the crew.
The Sochi torch will then be returned to Earth and used to light the Olympic cauldron in February next year.
The trip to the space station is all part of elaborate preparations for Russia’s first Olympics since the Soviet era. The games are the most expensive Olympics so far, costing around $50 billion (1,620 billion roubles).
The Olympic torch has been welcomed to Buckingham Palace by members of the royal family, including Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge.
Large crowds gathered across London to see the flame on the penultimate day of its journey around the British Isles.
The torch relay also passed through Downing Street, where it was greeted by Prime Minister David Cameron.
David Cameron earlier said the London Games would show the world “beyond doubt that Britain can deliver”.
The flame ended the day in Hyde Park where the final torchbearer lit a cauldron in front of 60,000 people who have gathered for a celebratory concert.
London Mayor Boris Johnson wished the crowds a “wonderful” Olympics, and thanked them for their support.
“Are we ready? Yes we are,” Boris Johnson said, in a rallying cry to the audience.
The Olympic torch has been welcomed to Buckingham Palace by members of the royal family, including Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge
Meanwhile, Great Britain’s men’s football team is taking on Senegal at Manchester’s Old Trafford ground.
On Friday, the Olympics will be officially opened by the Queen and the torch’s journey will come to an end during the opening ceremony.
A unanimous decision has been made over who will light the Olympic Stadium’s cauldron, LOCOG said, but it will be kept secret until the ceremony.
Earlier, David Cameron told reporters during a news conference at the Olympic Park: “This is a great moment for us. Let’s seize it.”
And he said security was his main concern ahead of the Games – an area he said he takes “personal responsibility for”.
David Cameron described a blunder in which North Korean footballers’ images were shown next to the South Korean flag as an “honest mistake”.
The prime minister called the eve of the Games “a truly momentous day for our country”.
“Seven years of waiting, planning, building, dreaming, are almost over – tomorrow, the curtain comes up, the spectators arrive, and the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 can officially begin.”
David Cameron also met the Republican candidate for the US presidency, Mitt Romney, during his campaigning and fundraising visit to London.
Mitt Romney had earlier expressed concerns about “disconcerting” signs of a lack of readiness for the Games.
“The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials – that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” Mitt Romney told a US television station.
It is “hard to know just how well it will turn out”, said Mitt Romney, who managed the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002.
David Cameron responded by saying: “Of course, this is a time of some economic difficulty for the UK. Everybody knows that.
“But look at what we’re capable of achieving as a nation, even at a difficult economic time.”
Mitt Romney, who also met Labour leader Ed Miliband, later said outside Number 10: “I expect the Games to be highly successful.”
In other developments:
• Long queues outside St James’s Park in Newcastle meant some football fans missed the start of Mexico v South Korea
• The PM met David Beckham at Downing Street to discuss how to tackle world hunger. It came ahead of a “hunger summit” on the final day of the Games, Sunday 12 August
• A planned strike by East Midlands Trains (EMT) during the Games was called off after a pensions dispute was settled
• LOCOG apologized after an official football programme listed Welsh footballer Joe Allen as English. It said the error would be corrected for Team GB’s next match
• A global investment conference in London kicked off a series of business summits intended to showcase the UK and attract investment during the Games
• A new record for arrivals at Heathrow is expected to be set on Thursday, with up to 125,000 incoming passengers
Olympic flame which will be used for the London 2012 torch relay has been lit during a ceremony in Olympia, Greece.
The flame was kindled by a “high priestess” who captured the morning sun’s rays in a parabolic mirror.
The ceremony came amid political and economic turmoil in Greece, the home of the Ancient Olympics, where a week-long leg of the relay will be held.
The flame flies to Britain on 18 May for a 70-day relay around the UK.
The lighting ceremony took place in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera, next to the ancient stadium.
Actresses playing Olympic priestesses danced and men dressed as heralds put on a display symbolizing athletic strength.
“High priestess” Ino Menegaki then lit the flame in the bowl-shaped mirror and used it to light a Greek Olympic torch.
The flame – an Olympic symbol meant to represent purity because it comes from the sun – was then placed in an urn and taken to the stadium where the ancient Olympic Games were staged.
Olympic flame which will be used for the London 2012 torch relay has been lit during a ceremony in Olympia, Greece
LOCOG Chairman Lord Sebastian Coe, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and Hellenic Olympic Committee president Spyros Capralos were in Olympia for the moment marking the countdown to London 2012.
Lord Sebastian Coe said: “Today is the rallying call to the athletes – the best athletes of their generation – to come to London. That in itself is a big moment because it’s the biggest sporting event in the calendar.”
He told assembled Greek and Olympic dignitaries and a crowd gathered on the slopes of the stadium: “We are reminded this morning of sport’s enduring and universal appeal, and the timeless Olympic values that transcend history and geography; values which, I believe, in these challenging times are more relevant than at any time before and particularly to young people the world over.
“In 1948, shortly after the Second World War, my predecessor stood where I am today and made the first tentative steps in turning the world from war to sport.
“We find ourselves in challenging times again and turn to sport once more to connect the world in a global celebration of achievement and inspiration.”
In the stadium, it lit the London 2012 torch of Liverpool-born Greek world champion 10 km swimmer Spyros Gianniotis, who will carry it on the first leg of the relay around Greece.
He passed it on to Alex Loukos, 19, the first British torchbearer, a boxer and, in 2005, one of a delegation of east London schoolchildren who travelled to Singapore as part of London’s final bid for the Games.
Alex Loukos said: “It feels like I’m coming full circle.
“I went out to Singapore before we even knew that we’d won the Games and now I’m here, sort of kicking it off. It’s a big honor and a privilege and I’m just trying to take it all in.”
The torch is due to travel 2,900 kms (1,800 miles) through the country, carried by 500 torchbearers, on a route circling the country and travelling out to Crete.
Greece has seen huge demonstrations of social unrest in previous months, sparked by financial chaos and efforts to reach a deal with the European Union on a bail-out for the Greek economy.
Talks to try to form a new government have been ongoing after elections on Sunday failed to produce a conclusive result.
Several international companies including BMW have stepped in to help fund the torch’s journey.
The Greek section of the 2012 torch relay ends at the Panathenaic Stadium, Athens, on Thursday 17 May, where the flame is handed over to London Olympic Games organizers.
The stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
The last torchbearers in Greece will be Greek weightlifter Pyrros Dimas and Chinese gymnast Li Ning – who lit the cauldron at the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony.
The 2008 Olympic torch relay, which travelled the globe, was dogged by pro-Tibet, democracy and anti-China protests.
The 2012 flame will travel straight from Greece to the UK on 18 May, flying into the Royal Navy airbase at Culdrose, near Helston in Cornwall.
The UK torch relay begins at Land’s End the following morning when three times Olympic gold medal-winning sailor Ben Ainslie will be the first to carry the torch on British soil.
He wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “It is a privilege for me to be asked but, more than anything, it is an exciting moment for the country.
“The arrival of the torch on home soil really brings home how close the Games are.”
Carried by 8,000 torchbearers, the Barber Osgerby-designed torch will cover 8,000 miles across all of the country’s nations and regions.
It is due to reach the Olympic Stadium in Stratford on 27 July to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
For the ancient Greeks, fire was a divine element believed to have been stolen from the Gods.
A flame was first lit at the modern Olympics at the Amsterdam 1928 summer games, but it was not until Berlin 1936 that a torch relay route was set out from Greece to Germany.