| |High priestess kindles the Olympic torch
(OLYMPIA, March 24) -- The Beijing Olympic Flame began on Monday to make its way around Greece, where it will be relayed by torchbearers for six days, before traveling to Beijing to begin its "Journey of Harmony."
In the Torch Lighting Ceremony that began at 11:00 a.m. (GMT +2), in Olympia, Greece, the High Priestess successfully lit the sacred flame in a traditional ritual, using only the rays of the sun and a parabolic mirror.
High Priestess Maria Nafpliotou successfully lights a flame pot
The High Priestess, portrayed by Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, used the flame to light the torch of the first torchbearer, Alexandros Nikolaidis, the Greek Olympic Taekwondo silver medalist in 2004. Nikolaidis ran with the torch to the Coubertin monument, beginning the first leg of the relay in Greece
China's Luo Xuejuan, a retired swimmer and gold medalist in the last Olympic Games, received the flame from Nikolaidis and covered two legs of the relay before handing the flame off to renowned table tennis champion, Deng Yaping. Unforeseen circumstances prevented the originally scheduled third torchbearer from participating in the relay.
Present at the ceremony were Greek President Karolos Papoulias and the President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Minos X. Kyriakou.
Jacques Rogge addresses the ceremony
IOC President Jacques Rogge underlined that "the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay wants to be a journey of harmony, bringing the message of peace to people of different nationalities, cultures and creeds" in a speech.
In his address, BOCOG President Liu thanked the people of Greece for all their work and for preparations for the ceremony and the relay in Greece, expressing hope that the Olympic Flame would light the way to peace, friendship and progress.
From March 24-29, the torch will travel across Greece, ending at Panathinaiko Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, where the flame will be handed over to BOCOG. The Olympic Flame will arrive in Beijing on March 31, 2008, and following a ceremony, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch Relay will commence.