(ATR) The first flame for a South American Olympic Games is alight.
The Olympic flame for the Rio 2016 Olympics was kindled by the rays of a noontime sun in the traditional ceremony at ancient Olympia.
Lefteris Petrounias, reigning gymnastics world champion in the still rings from Greece, received the sacred fire as the first torchbearer. He then handed off to Brazilian volleyball player Giovane Gavio for the journey lasting almost four months.
Volleyball Olympian Giovane Gavio is first Brazilian to carry the torch. (ATR)
Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes was the highest-ranking elected official from Brazil to attend the ceremony. Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, had hoped to visit Olympia, but chose not to come while facing impeachment proceedings. Minister of Sport Ricardo Leyser represented the federal government.
IOC President Thomas Bach acknowledged the political challenges facing Brazil in his remarks at the ceremony.
“Despite the difficulties that Brazil is facing today, the flame is a timeless reminder that we are all part of the same humanity. The flame is an ancient symbol of peace and harmony, a symbol of the power of humanity to come together despite our differences. This will be the legacy of the Olympic Games for Brazil and for the world.”
Rio 2016 chief Carlos Nuzman
Carlos Nuzman, president of Rio 2016 and the Brazilian Olympic Committee, as well as honorary IOC member, reflected on the firsts the flame lighting represents.
“As the Olympic flame begins a journey towards the first Games in South America, it is time to light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country,” he said. “For Brazilians, it will be a moment of national pride. For South America, it will mark history.”
El Moutawakel (2nd from left) among dignitaries attending (ATR)
Nawal El Moutawakel, the IOC coordination commission chair for Rio 2016, said she cried when the flame was lit.
“It was very emotional,” she told Around the Rings
. “It was the first time for me to attend such a big event, the lighting of the Olympic flame. This is the launch for me of the Games and I’m sure it will bring lots of joy, hope and good moments to live in Brazil.”
The flame will travel through Greece for the next seven days. On April 27, following the handover ceremony in Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, it will be taken to Switzerland for the first time in years for the relay. The flame will journey to Geneva for a stop at the United Nations and then to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, firsts for both.
Marco Balich with first torchbearer Lefteris Petrounias. (Stratos Safioleas)
On May 3, the flame will arrive in arrive in Brasilia, the capital city, for the start of the nationwide relay ending August 5 at the opening ceremony.
The ceremony marked the 80th anniversary of the torch relay, which began with the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. Journalists covering the ceremony worked in a press room at the International Olympic Academy named for Carl Diem, the German founder of the torch relay.
About 2000 spectators sat on the grass hillside at the ancient stadium for the lighting, smaller than most recent ceremonies such as London 2012.
Marco Balich, the producer of the opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics, came to Olympia to soak in the atmosphere and inspiration of the flame lighting.
“For me it was a moving experience,” Balich said. “The Olympic Flame starts its journey from the area of the first Olympics to travel for the first time to South America. Together with the millions of Brazilians I cannot wait to receive it at the end of this journey, at the Olympic cauldron, the climax of the Opening Ceremony".
A contingent from Tokyo 2020 also observed the rituals. The Japanese will receive the flame in four years. The ceremony ahead of all summer and winter Olympics is organized by the Hellenic Olympic Committee.
Karen Rosen in Olympia.
Written and reported in Olympia by Ed Hula and Karen Rosen .
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