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Olympic flame lit for Tokyo 2020 in Games' birthplace

2020-03-12 15:08:00 Xinhuanet

ATHENS, March 12 (Xinhua) -- The Olympic Flame for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was ignited on Thursday at a ceremony in Olympia in western Greece, the birthplace of the Games.

In the role of an ancient Greek high priestess, actress Xanthi Georgiou used a concave mirror to focus the sun's rays and light the torch at 12:10am local time.

She stood before the ruins of the 2,500-year-old temple dedicated to Greek goddess Hera, a few meters from the entrance of the ancient stadium where the Games originated 25 centuries ago, and prayed to Greek god Apollo.

"Apollo, God of the sun and the idea of light, send your rays and light the sacred torch for the hospitable city of Tokyo," she said.

A few moments later, dozens of dancers playing the roles of priestesses, goddesses and male youths in pleated costumes performed on the stadium's slope inspired by ancient Greek pottery and statues.

The flame was transported in a replica of an ancient urn inside the stadium and the high priestess kindled the first Olympic torch and passed the flame to the first torchbearer, Greek shooter Anna Korakaki.

The Olympic shooting champion had won a gold and a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and is the first woman ever to start the torch relay.

The athlete was also given a branch of an olive tree, a symbol of peace, honor and victory, while a dancer released a white pigeon to symbolize the spread of Olympic ideals to the world.

Noguchi Mizuki, gold medalist in the women's marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics was the second runner in the Greek leg of the relay.

Due to emergency measures implemented to contain the spread of coronavirus, only a limited number of around 100 dignitaries attended the event, which was closed to the public.

Among the attendees were Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos and IOC president Thomas Bach, along with representatives of the Greek government, the European Commission and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

Prior to the ritual of the lighting of the flame, the Olympic anthem and national anthems of Japan and Greece were played, and Olympic, Japanese and Greek flags were hoisted inside the stadium.

"Today, in these fractured times, when the great narratives are worn out and challenged, Olympia, the Olympic Games, the universal values that stem from them, continue to shine and to move the people," said mayor of Olympia Georgios Georgiopoulos.

The mayor pointed to challenges such as the migrant crisis, climate change, global conflicts and the coronavirus epidemic, expressing hope that all can be addressed through cooperation.

"All nations will keep making our best efforts together," said Toshiaki Endo, special representative from the Tokyo organizing committee.

"The lighting of the Olympic flame today marks the beginning of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The concept underpinning the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay is 'Hope Lights Our Way'," he added.

The Japanese official noted that the flame will be lit in Japan by hydrogen-produced solar energy from Fukushima Prefecture, which was among the worst affected areas in the country's 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Hydrogen will also be used to power the Games' cauldron in Tokyo and all fuel cell vehicles for the Games' transportation, he added.

"I am sure our Japanese friends will once again stage an excellent Games, bringing together tradition, state-of-the-art technology and respect of the environment," said Spyros Capralos, President of the Hellenic Olympic Commitee (HOC), which has organized lighting and handover ceremonies since 1936.

Capralos also wished the Tokyo 2020 organizers the best of luck. The city last hosted the Olympic Games in 1964.

The close of Thursday's ceremony at the ancient stadium marked the start of the torch relay.

The relay's first leg across Greece will end on March 19 in Athens, where the sacred flame will be delivered to the Tokyo 2020 team in a handover ceremony at the marble Panathinaic stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Katerina Stefanidi, who won gold in the pole vault at the 2016 Olympics, will be the final Greek torchbearer to carry the flame inside the Panathenaic stadium, marking the end of the torch relay's Greek leg.

A total of 600 torchbearers will carry the Olympic flame across 3,200 kilometers in Greece, passing through dozens of cities and archaeological sites, HOC officials said.

The second leg of the relay will end in July at the stadium, which will be the main venue of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

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