Paris Olympics Flame To Be Lit In Its Greek Birthplace


Nearly 100 days before the 2024 Paris Games open, the Olympic flame will be lit in ancient Olympia on Tuesday for a torch relay stretching from the Acropolis to French Polynesia.

For the first time since events for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games had to be toned down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, spectators will be able to attend the torch relay events.

Some 600 dignitaries are expected at the ceremony on Tuesday, headed by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

The ritual will see actresses in the role of ancient priestesses coaxing the Olympic flame into life with the help of a parabolic polished mirror in Olympia, southwestern Greece, where the Games were born in 776 BC.

American mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato is to deliver the Olympic anthem.

The ceremony is conducted at the ruins of the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera, and sets off the Olympic torch relay that marks the countdown for each Games.

Cloudy skies are forecast for Tuesday, but the flame was successfully lit in a rehearsal on Monday, a backup that can be used if necessary during the official ceremony.

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 Games.

The first relay runner will be Greece’s 2020 Olympics rowing champion Stefanos Ntouskos.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee confirmed Monday that retired French swimmer Laure Manaudou, who won her first gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, will follow Ntouskos as France’s first torchbearer in Olympia.

European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas will follow as the third torchbearer, the HOC said.

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.

“We had prepared this programme for the Tokyo Olympics, but the pandemic did not allow us to carry it out,” Thanassis Vassiliadis, head of the Hellenic Olympic Committee’s torch relay committee, told Kathimerini daily last week.

He added that security levels at the flame-lighting ceremony will be “the highest” possible with police “discreet but present everywhere.”

“Nobody will be able to enter the grounds without accreditation,” he said.

Carried by ship

The Olympic flame will be handed over to Paris 2024 organisers in a ceremony at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympic Games of 1896, on April 26.

Nana Mouskouri, the 89-year-old Greek singer with a worldwide following, has been invited to perform at the ceremony.

On April 27, the flame will begin its journey to France on board the 19th-century three-masted barque Belem, which was launched just weeks after the 1896 Athens Games.

A French historical monument, the Belem carried out trade journeys to Brazil, Guyana and the West Indies for nearly two decades.

France’s last surviving three-mast steel-hulled boat, it is expected to arrive in Marseille on May 8.

Ten thousand torchbearers will then carry the flame across 64 French territories.

It will travel through 400 towns and dozens of tourist attractions during its 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) journey through mainland France and overseas French territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific.

On July 26 it will form the centrepiece of the Paris Olympics opening ceremony on the river Seine — the first time it has not been held in the Games’ main stadium.

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