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Oly flame lighting ceremony rehearsal held without spectators

Athens, March 11 (IANS) The dress rehearsal of the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame, which will be burning for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, was held on Wednesday at ancient Olympia in western Greece, the birthplace of the Games.

The event took place without a hitch, according to an e-mailed press release by the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) which organizes the ceremonies.

During a customary ritual originating in 1936, when the first such ceremony took place for the Berlin Olympics, Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou playing the role of an ancient high priestess lit the torch using a concave mirror and the sun’s rays.

In front of the ruins of the 2,500-year-old temple dedicated to Hera, the goddess of women, marriage and family in Greek mythology, a few meters from the entrance of the ancient stadium where the Games were born 25 centuries ago, she prayed to Apollo, the god of sun in Greek mythology, to light the torch.

Dozens of young female and male dancers playing the roles of priestesses, goddesses and male youths performed on the slopes inside the stadium a choreography inspired, as always, by images of ancient Greek pottery and sculpture.

A total of 55 people, all volunteers, took part in the ceremony, choreographer Artemis Ignatiou, artistic director of the ceremonies since 2008, told a press briefing recently.

The High Priestess then handed over to the first torchbearer the torch with the flame and an olive branch, a symbol of peace, honour and victory.

Anna Korakaki, the Greek Olympic shooting champion who had won a gold and a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics was chosen as the first torchbearer. She will be the first woman ever to start the torch relay on Thursday, when the official ceremony will take place.

Wednesday’s dress rehearsal was closed to the public due to prevention measures introduced because of the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The Chairman of the HOC Torch Relay Commission Thanasis Vasileiadis, who is responsible for the ceremony, gave the final instructions so that everything runs smoothly on Thursday during the lighting ceremony, HOC said on Wednesday.

IOC President Thomas Bach, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and HOC President Spyros Capralos will attend the ceremony on Thursday which will also be closed to the public, according to the press statement.

A week later, on March 19, the hand over ceremony will be held in Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium, the marble venue of the first modern Olympics in 1896.

Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a former Greek top court judge and the first ever woman in the history of the Greek modern state who was elected President of the Hellenic Republic in January this year, will be present in her new role. She formally assumes office this Friday.

Another woman, Katerina Stefanidi, who had won a pole vault gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, will be the last Greek torchbearer to carry the Flame inside the Panathenaic Stadium, marking the end of the torch relay on Greek soil.

A total of 600 torchbearers will carry the Olympic Flame across 3,200 kilometres in Greece, passing through dozens of cities and archaeological sites, HOC officials said.

The second leg of the relay will end in July at the stadium, which will be the main venue of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

–IANS

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