The Olympic flame’s journey to Brazil officially begins later in April – and an historic series of events and ceremonies will mark an occasion that evokes the spirit of Games past and present more acutely than any other.
On Thursday 21 April, all eyes will be on Olympia in Greece, site of the ancient Games, when an imaginative ceremony will see the Olympic torch lit in front of the Temple of the Goddess Hera – beginning the long-awaited Greek section of the Rio 2016 Torch Relay.
Ancient and modern traditions will be combined when Greek actress Katarina Lehou, playing High Priestess of the Goddess Hera, lights the flame directly from the sun’s rays using a parabolic mirror. She will be supported by a retinue of priestesses who will join her in a procession to the ancient stadium – where the group will be joined by a group of male dancers and an Ancient Greek-inspired choreography by performed.
“The lighting of the flame links the ancient and modern civilizations and presents to every generation the ideals and values that were born in Ancient Greece and then travelled across the whole world, giving physical substance to the meanings of culture and peace,” said Spyros Capralos, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee.
The flame’s subsequent journey underlines Capralos’s words. It will begin a six-day relay across Greece, covering 1,388 miles and passing through numerous sites of great importance – including Marathonas from where legend has it that Greek soldier Pheidippides set off on a run that inspired the modern-day marathon.
Among the 450 people who carry the torch during this Greek section of the relay will be a Syrian refugee who has claimed asylum in Greece. He or she will receive it at the camp for refugees and migrants in Eleonas, western Athens, and will do so in the name of all refugees.
Panathinaiko Stadium – where the 1896 Olympic Games, the first modern edition of what is now the world’s biggest sporting event, were held – will host the end of the relay. There, the 2016 Games will appear a huge step closer – as the torch is formally handed over to this year’s host country, Brazil.
This year’s events hold extra significance, as it will be the 80th anniversary of the first lighting of the flame in modern times – which took place ahead of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.