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Olympic Torch Lit For Sochi Winter Games

  • RFE/RL

Participants at the torch-lighting ceremony in the ancient city of Olympia, Greece

Participants at the torch-lighting ceremony in the ancient city of Olympia, Greece

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch has been lit in Olympia, the Greek birthplace of the ancient olympics, as it begins what is to be the longest torch relay in the modern competition's history.

The September 29 ceremony included a theatrical performance in the ancient Temple of Hera, during which a participant used a parabolic mirror to light the torch by reflecting the sun's rays.

From there, the flame was passed to the relay's first torchbearers, Greek alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou and Russian-born ice hockey star Aleksandr Ovechkin.

The torch relay will continue a week in Greece, ending in Athens, the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

From there, it will be handed to a Russian delegation and flown to Moscow, starting a 123-day relay that will carry the Olympic flame through 2,900 towns across Russia's 83 regions with stops at the North Pole and the bottom of Lake Baikal.

The torch will also travel to the International Space Station, for a special spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts, before ending up in Sochi for the opening ceremony on February 7.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Dmitry Chernyshenko, the president of the Sochi organizing committee, said the elaborate relay was designed to bring all the people of Russia together.

"We always will unite in our diversity," he said. "And this is very symbolic for Russia -- the biggest country in the world, where more than 180 different nationalities speaking 150 language live in peace."

The Sochi Olympics have been mired in corruption allegations and concerns about environmental impact. Numerous athletes and activist groups have also called for a boycott of the Winter Games in response to Moscow's severe crackdown on gay rights over the past year.

Tomas Bach, the new president of the International Olympic Committee, alluded to the concerns during the opening ceremony, saying the Olympic torch relay "will be a messenger for the Olympic values of excellent friendship and respect without any form of discrimination."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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