Paris Olympics flame to be lit with elan at Greek cradle of ancient games -- if it's sunny enough

The flame for the Paris Olympics will be kindled at the stunning site of the ancient games in southern Greece one way or another

Nicholas Paphitis
Tuesday 16 April 2024 07:01 BST

One way or another, the flame that's to burn at the Paris Olympics will be kindled Tuesday at the site of the ancient games in southern Greece.

Forecast cloudy skies could frustrate efforts to produce the flame in the customary fashion, when an actress dressed as an ancient Greek priestess uses the sun to ignite a silver torch.

If that doesn't work, French organizers will get their flame from a backup that was successfully lit at a final rehearsal Monday.

In an elaborately choreographed ceremony first used in 1936, the foremost of a group of priestesses in long, pleated dresses offers a prayer to the ancient Greek sun god, Apollo. She then dips the fuel-filled torch into a parabolic mirror which focuses the sun's rays on it, and fire spurts forth.

From the ancient stadium in Olympia, a relay of torchbearers will carry the flame more than 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) through Greece until the handover to Paris Games organizers in Athens on April 26.

Thousands of spectators from all over the world are expected for Tuesday's event amid the ruined temples and sports grounds where the ancient games were held from 776 B.C.-393 A.D.

The sprawling site, in a lush valley by the confluence of two rivers, is at its prettiest in the spring, teeming with pink-flowering Judas trees, small blue irises and the occasional red anemone.

The first torchbearer will be Greek rower Stefanos Douskos, a gold medalist in 2021 in Tokyo. He will run to a nearby monument that contains the heart of French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the driving force behind the modern revival of the games.

The next runner will be Laure Manaudou, a French swimmer who won three medals at Athens in 2004. She will hand over to senior European Union official Margaritis Schinas, a Greek.

The flame will travel from Athens' port of Piraeus on the Belem, a French three-masted sailing ship built in 1896 — the year of the first modern games in Athens.

According to Captain Aymeric Gibet, it's due on May 8 in the southern French port of Marseille, a city founded by Greek colonists some 2,600 years ago.

The Belem arrived in Katakolo, near Olympia, on Monday. Lookers-on included a small, enthusiastic group of tourists from the northwestern French region of Brittany, where the ship's homeport of Nantes is, waving French and Breton flags.

“We thought it would be a unique opportunity to see the flame lighting at the historic site of Olympia,” said Jean-Michel Pasquet from Lorient, near Nantes. “And when we also learnt the Belem would carry the flame ... we said we must do this.”

But Pasquet said he'd have to watch the Paris Games from home.

“For us, it would be really very expensive, unaffordable,” to go to the venues, he said. “So we'll watch them on television ... from our armchairs.”


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