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Olympic torch ceremony lifts Greek gloom

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David Bond | 18:56 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2012

The lighting of the Olympic flame here at the birthplace of the ancient Games was a stirring moment, which reminded you of the historic significance of the movement and London's responsibilities this summer.

Besides a brief scare when the flame went out, the ceremony passed smoothly. But even with the sun shining it was hard to ignore the gloomier economic backdrop for today's event.

Greece is facing a crippling economic crisis. And while it seems slightly perverse to bemoan cuts to sport at a time when so many are losing their jobs here, the impact on elite athletes has been severe.

All domestic competitions have been cancelled and the International Olympic Committee has been forced to step in with another Greek bailout - this time to ensure they can field a decent team in London.

I spoke to Spyros Capralos, head of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, who told me that many athletes are struggling to find anywhere to train. For swimmers the situation has been particularly acute, he said. Local authorities can't afford the fuel to heat and clean the pools.

Greece's swimming champion Spyros Gianniotis was the first torch bearer. Photo: Getty

World swimming champion Spyros Gianniotis, who was given the honour of being the first torch bearer today, says some of his team-mates are having to give up because they can't afford to train.

"It's very hard, and it's not only the funding. You don't know what's going on, your country's in debt, you don't know what's going to happen the next day or the next month. Everyone is worried and all Greeks have this in their mind all the time."

For London - not shy of celebrating a countdown - today was perhaps the most significant stepping stone to the Games so far. The 10,000-mile torch relay is the moment organisers hope will ignite more widespread enthusiasm for the Olympics.

With our own economy continuing to bump along the bottom, London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe and his ever growing team at Canary Wharf know they must get the tone right at a time when so many people are facing financial uncertainty.

Many still question the decision to invest more than £9bn in a sporting event when cuts are being made elsewhere. Both Lord Coe and the sports minister Hugh Robertson insisted today they were sure the Olympics were still worth the money.

But as Lord Coe added, the Olympics and Olympic movement can't exist in a bubble even if the money both London 2012 and the IOC raise through sponsorship and TV rights keeps going up.

After a week-long tour of Greece, the torch will arrive in Cornwall next Friday. Then the eyes of the world will really be on London.

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