London will be the first city to receive the flame twice
OLYMPIA, GREECE (MAY 10, 2012) (IOC/ERT) -On a warm and sunny day at the site of the ancient Olympics, an actress playing the high priestess lit the torch with the help of a parabolic mirror as London, hosts also of the 1948 Games, became the only city ever to receive the flame twice.
The countdown to this summer's London Olympics kicked off with the kindling of the Games torch by the sun's rays in ancient Olympia on Thursday (May 10), sparking a relay that will culminate with the lighting of the Olympic stadium's cauldron at the opening ceremony on July 27.
Actress Ino Menegaki, playing the high priestess, needed only a few seconds to ignite the torch with the help of a parabolic mirror in this traditional ceremony less than 80 days before the Games get under way.
The relay's first torchbearer, Spyros Gianniotis, a Liverpool-born Greek swimmer who won the gold medal in the 10km open water event at the 2011 world championships, started the seven-day Greek leg of the relay before the flame is handed over to London organisers on May 17 and flown to Britain a day later.
"The flames that we kindle here from the pure rays of the sun is a powerful symbol of the traditions and values that underly our movement. It is a beacon for the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect, it is a symbol of fellowship and peace," said International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge inside the stadium where the ancient Games were held. This the last torch ceremony of his presidency, as Rogge steps down next year after 12 years in charge.
Several thousand spectators also watched the ceremony from the grassy slopes hugging the ancient sports arena. A strong police presence around the ancient site, and in the town of Olympia, made sure the event went off without a hitch.
Four years ago human rights activists managed to briefly disrupt the Beijing Olympics ceremony London becomes the only city to have received the Olympic flame twice -- first for the 1948 Games. Britain's capital also hosted the 1908 Games, but the torch lighting ceremony and relay were only introduced for the first time for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The British leg of the relay will travel 12,800 km around the country, taking in 1,018 villages and the 1,085-metre summit of Snowdon, before ending inside the Olympic stadium on the opening day of the Games on July 27.