OLYMPICS

Despite weather glitch, the Paris Olympics flame is lit at the Greek cradle of ancient games

Apr 16, 2024, 5:38 AM | Updated: 5:46 am

ATHENS, GREECE - APRIL 16: Greek actress Mary Mina (R), playing the role of the High Priestess, lig...

ATHENS, GREECE - APRIL 16: Greek actress Mary Mina (R), playing the role of the High Priestess, lights the torch during the flame lighting ceremony for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics at the Ancient Olympia archeological site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece on April 16, 2024 in Olympia, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

(Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — Even without the help of Apollo, the flame that is to burn at the Paris Olympics was kindled Tuesday at the site of the ancient games in southern Greece.

Cloudy skies prevented the traditional lighting, when an actress dressed as an ancient Greek priestess uses the sun to ignite a silver torch — after offering up a symbolic prayer to Apollo, the ancient Greek sun god.

Instead, she used a backup flame that had been lit on the same spot Monday, during the final rehearsal.

Normally, the foremost of a group of priestesses in long, pleated dresses dips the fuel-filled torch into a parabolic mirror which focuses the sun’s rays on it, and fire spurts forth.

But this time she didn’t even try, going straight for the backup flame, kept in a copy of an ancient Greek pot. Ironically, a few minutes later the sun shone forth.

From the ancient stadium in Olympia, a relay of torchbearers will carry the flame more than 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) through Greece until the handover to Paris Games organizers in Athens on April 26.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the flame lighting combined “a pilgrimage to our past in ancient Olympia, and an act of faith in our future.”

“In these difficult times … with wars and conflicts on the rise, people are fed up with all the hate, the aggression and negative news,” he said. “We are longing for something which brings us together; something that is unifying; something that gives us hope.”

Thousands of spectators from all over the world packed Olympia for Tuesday’s event amid the ruined temples and sports grounds where the ancient games were held from 776 B.C.-393 A.D.

The sprawling site, in a lush valley by the confluence of two rivers, is at its prettiest in the spring, teeming with pink-flowering Judas trees, small blue irises and the occasional red anemone.

Greek authorities maintained high security around Olympia on Tuesday, after protests by rights activists disrupted the lighting ceremonies for the Beijing summer and winter games. Armed police stopped incoming vehicles and checked for explosives, while sniffer dogs combed the grounds.

The first torchbearer was Greek rower Stefanos Douskos, a gold medalist in 2021 in Tokyo. He ran to a nearby monument that contains the heart of French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the driving force behind the modern revival of the games.

The next runner was Laure Manaudou, a French swimmer who won three medals at Athens in 2004. She handed over to senior European Union official Margaritis Schinas, a Greek.

The IOC’s Bach praised Paris organizers for doing “an outstanding job” with preparations for the July 26-August 11 games.

He also highlighted their environmental impact, saying that cleanup efforts will make it possible to swim in the River Seine, which traverses Paris, “for the first time in a hundred years.”

The flame will travel from Athens’ port of Piraeus on the Belem, a French three-masted sailing ship built in 1896 — the year of the first modern games in Athens.

According to Captain Aymeric Gibet, it’s due on May 8 in the southern French port of Marseille, a city founded by Greek colonists some 2,600 years ago.

The Belem arrived in Katakolo, near Olympia, on Monday. Lookers-on included a small, enthusiastic group of tourists from the northwestern French region of Brittany, where the ship’s homeport of Nantes is, waving French and Breton flags.

“We thought it would be a unique opportunity to see the flame lighting at the historic site of Olympia,” said Jean-Michel Pasquet from Lorient, near Nantes. “And when we also learnt the Belem would carry the flame … we said we must do this.”

But Pasquet said he’d have to watch the Paris Games from home.

“For us, it would be really very expensive, unaffordable,” to go to the venues, he said. “So we’ll watch them on television … from our armchairs.”

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Despite weather glitch, the Paris Olympics flame is lit at the Greek cradle of ancient games