Greece: The official countdown to this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics began on Thursday when the torch was lit at the site of the ancient Games, with organizers hoping it will shift attention away from Brazil’s political and financial turmoil.
On a glorious spring day with the sun burning hot above the ancient stadium in Olympia, an actress playing a high priestess lit a torch from the rays of the sun at the temple of Hera, using a parabolic mirror, to kick off a domestic relay.
Brazilian organizers will receive the flame in a handover at the Panathenian stadium on 27 April in Athens, site of the first modern Olympics, and will start their relay on 3 May in the capital Brasilia, ending in Rio on the day of the opening ceremony.
Preparations for the first games in South America, which run from 5-21 August , have been plagued by problems and a shortage of cash for organisers as the country is experiencing its worst recession in decades.
“The torch lighting brings a message that can and will unite our dear Brazil, a country that is suffering much more than it deserves in its quest for a brighter future,” Rio games chief Carlos Nuzman said in his speech.
Brazil president Dilma Rousseff, who cancelled her trip to ancient Olympia, is facing impeachment.
The crisis has paralysed the country’s ability to revive its economy from recession in the midst of a huge corruption scandal involving state-run oil firm Petrobras.
“Despite the difficulties that Brazil is facing today, the flame is a timeless reminder that we are all part of the same humanity,” International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said.
“Rio de Janeiro... will provide a spectacular to showcase the best of the human spirit. In just a few weeks the Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and their passion for sport,” Bach said.
Thursday’s ceremony marks the 80-year anniversary since the relay, which did not exist in the ancient Greek Olympics, was introduced by the Nazi organizers of the 1936 Berlin Games. Reuters