Paris 2024 torch lit in Olympics birthplace, relay under way

Published April 17, 2024
This photograph shows the Olympic Flame during the Olympic torch lighting ceremony for the Paris 2024 Olympics Games at the Ancient Olympia archeological site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, on April 16. — AFP
This photograph shows the Olympic Flame during the Olympic torch lighting ceremony for the Paris 2024 Olympics Games at the Ancient Olympia archeological site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, on April 16. — AFP
First torch bearer, rowing Olympic gold medalist on 2020, Stephanos Ntouskos (L) receives the flame from Greek actress Mary Mina, playing the role of the High Priestess, as he starts his run with the Olympic torch following the flame lighting ceremony for the Paris 2024 Olympics Games at the Ancient Olympia archeological site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, on April 16. — AFP
First torch bearer, rowing Olympic gold medalist on 2020, Stephanos Ntouskos (L) receives the flame from Greek actress Mary Mina, playing the role of the High Priestess, as he starts his run with the Olympic torch following the flame lighting ceremony for the Paris 2024 Olympics Games at the Ancient Olympia archeological site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, on April 16. — AFP

ANCIENT OLYMPIA: The torch for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games was lit in ancient Olympia in a traditional ceremony on Tuesday, marking the final stretch of the seven-year preparations for the Games’ start on July 26.

Greek actress Mary Mina, playing the role of high priestess, lit the torch using a backup flame instead of a parabolic mirror that is normally used, due to cloudy skies, in the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera, near the stadium where the Olympics were born in 776 BC, for the start of a relay in Greece and France.

It will culminate with the lighting of the Olympic flame in the French capital at the opening ceremony. Paris will host the summer Olympics for a third time after 1900 and 1924.

“In these difficult times we are living through, with wars and conflicts on the rise, people are fed up with all the hate, the aggression and negative news they are facing day in and day out,” International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said in his speech.

“We are longing for something which brings us together, something that is unifying, something that gives us hope. The Olympic flame that we are lighting today is the symbol of this hope.”

The IOC has cleared the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Olympics despite the ongoing war in Ukraine but they will do so as neutral athletes with no national flag or anthem, a decision that angered Moscow.

French President Emmanuel Macron also said last week Russia would be asked to observe a ceasefire in Ukraine during the Paris Olympics. The Kremlin said Ukraine might use it as an opportunity to regroup and rearm.

Suspending armed conflicts under an Olympic truce during the Games was a standard practice in ancient Greece.

“In ancient times, the Olympic Games brought together the Greek city states, even — and in particular — during times of war and conflict,” Bach said.

“Today, the Olympic Games are the only event that brings the entire world together in peaceful competition. Then as now, the Olympic athletes are sending this powerful message: yes, it is possible to compete fiercely against each other and at the same time live peacefully together under one roof.”

Carrying the flame in a pot, the high priestess lit the torch of the first runner of the relay, Greece’s Olympic rowing champion Stefanos Ntouskos.

After a short run he then handed the flame on to France’s three-time Olympic medallist in swimming and head of Paris’ Olympic torch relay, Laure Manaudou, as the representative of the host city.

The torch harks back to the ancient Olympics when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games. The tradition was revived in 1936 for the Berlin Olympics.

During the 11-day relay on Greek soil, some 600 torchbearers will carry the flame over a distance of 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles) through 41 municipalities.

The flame will be officially handed over to Paris Games organisers in Athens’s Panathenaic stadium, site of the first modern Games in 1896, on April 26.

It will then depart the next day for France on board a three-masted ship, the Belem where it will arrive on May 8 in Marseille, with up to 150,000 people expected to attend the ceremony in the southern city’s Old Port.

The last torch bearer in Marseille will climb on the roof of the Velodrome stadium on May 9, organisers said.

Marseille, founded by the Greek settlers of Phocaea around 600 BC, will host the sailing competitions.

The French torch relay will last 68 days and will end in Paris with the lighting of the Olympic flame on July 26.

Officials on Tuesday stressed that the Paris Games will set new milestones, following the legacy of the other two prior Olympics held in the French capital.

“The Olympic Flame will shine over the first Olympic Games inspired by our Olympic Agenda reforms from start to finish,” Bach said. “These Olympic Games will be younger, more inclusive, more urban, more sustainable. These will be the very first Olympic Games with full gender parity, because the IOC allocated exactly 50 percent of the places to female and male athletes.”

Paris Olympics chief organiser Tony Estanguet noted that women took part for the first time in the Paris 1900 Games, while the first Olympic Village was created for the 1924 Paris Games.

For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic imposed toned-down events for the 2020 Tokyo Oly­mpics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games, the ceremony was back with full regalia and scores of spectators.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo werep resent at the ceremony.

American mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato delivered the Olympic anthem.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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