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For the first time and to celebrate the return of the Olympic Games to their country of origin, a “global” torch relay was organised. Before returning to Greece, it travelled across the five continents in reference to the five Olympic rings. The flame passed by all the cities that had hosted the Games since 1896, as well as other cities in the world that occupied a significant place in terms of sport, history and culture.
After the lighting ceremony which was held in Olympia on 25 March, the day of the 108th anniversary of the revival of the modern Olympic Games, a seven-day relay began across Greece, the last stage being the celebration at the Panathenaic Stadium. The flame stayed there for 64 days, burning in a special cauldron. It was only on 2 June that it was taken to Athens International Airport to fly to Sydney, host of the Games four years earlier. Cathy Freeman, Australian 400m gold medallist, kicked off the international relay on 4 June in Sydney.
The flame then headed to Melbourne, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Delhi, Cairo and Cape Town, where it made its first journey on African soil. It then crossed the Atlantic to visit Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Los Angeles, St Louis, Atlanta and New York. After Montreal, the flame came back to Europe and visited Antwerp, Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva, Lausanne, Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome, Munich, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, and finally Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, Sofia and Nicosia.
On 9 July, the flame returned to Greece to embark on the last phase of the relay from Heraklion in Crete. The second part of the Greek relay lasted 36 days, visiting 54 prefectures, 32 islands and 24 archaeological and historical sites. It ended on 13 August with the lighting of the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the Games held in the Athens Olympic Stadium.