London 2012: Olympic Games flame lit in Greece


The flame is lit using a mirror and the sun's rays, before being passed on to light the torch for the relay

The flame for the London 2012 torch relay and Olympic Games has been lit during a ceremony in Olympia, Greece.

It was kindled by actress Ino Menegaki, playing a high priestess, who caught the sun's rays in a parabolic mirror.

The flame went out briefly before being relit and transferred to the first torchbearer. The ceremony took place amid the Temple of Hera ruins, by the ancient Olympic Games stadium.

The flame flies to Britain on Friday 18 May for a 70-day relay around the UK.

At the temple ruins, actresses playing Olympic priestesses danced and men dressed as heralds put on a display symbolising athletic strength before the fire was ignited using the mirror.

Cameras caught the worrying moment the flame went out

The flame - an Olympic symbol meant to represent purity because it comes directly from the sun - was placed in an urn and taken to the stadium where the ancient Olympic Games were held.

It was transferred to a Greek torch which then "kissed" the London 2012 torch of Liverpool-born Greek world champion 10km swimmer Spyros Gianniotis.

He began to run with it on the first leg of its week-long journey around Greece.

Our correspondent James Pearce reported that the flame briefly went out while being held in an archaic pot at the side of the stadium, but the ceremony passed otherwise without incident in a country battling political and economic turmoil.

Chairman of the London games organisers, Locog, Lord Coe, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and Hellenic Olympic Committee president Spyros Capralos were in Olympia for the moment that marks the countdown to London 2012.

Lord Coe told the BBC: "Today is the rallying call to the athletes - the best athletes of their generation - to come to London. That in itself is a big moment because it's the biggest sporting event in the calendar."

World champion swimmer Spyros Gianniotis with the torch Liverpool-born Greek swimmer Spyros Gianniotis was first to run with the torch

In his speech to assembled Greek and Olympic dignitaries and a crowd gathered on the slopes of the stadium he said: "We are reminded this morning of sport's enduring and universal appeal, and the timeless Olympic values that transcend history and geography; values which, I believe, in these challenging times are more relevant than at any time before and particularly to young people the world over.

"In 1948, shortly after the Second World War, my predecessor stood where I am today and made the first tentative steps in turning the world from war to sport.

"We find ourselves in challenging times again and turn to sport once more to connect the world in a global celebration of achievement and inspiration."

'Peace symbol'

Mr Rogge said that like the messengers in ancient times who shared news of the Olympic truce - the laying down of arms for the Games - "the torchbearers who carry this flame to London will spread the message of sport's capacity to promote peace and to make our world a better place".

He said: "We have come to the ancestral home of the Olympic movement to light a flame that will soon cast its glow over the entire world.

"The flame that we kindle here, from the pure rays of the sun, is a powerful symbol of the tradition and values that underlie our movement.

"It is a beacon for the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect... a symbol of fellowship and peace."

First torchbearer Spyros Gianniotis passes the flame to Alex Loukos The flame passed to first British torchbearer, Alex Loukos, with a torch "kiss"

First torchbearer Mr Gianniotis passed the torch on to Alex Loukos, 19, the first British torchbearer, a boxer and, in 2005, one of a delegation of east London schoolchildren who travelled to Singapore as part of London's final bid for the Games.

Mr Loukos said: "It feels like I'm coming full circle.

"I went out to Singapore and now I'm here, sort of kicking it off. It's a big honour and a privilege and I'm just trying to take it all in."

The torch is due to travel 2,900km (1,800 miles) through Greece, carried by 500 torchbearers, on a route circling the country and travelling out to the islands of Crete and Kastelorizo.

Map of torch relay route in Greece The Greek relay starts in Olympia and finishes in Athens, taking in Crete and Kastelorizo

Greece has seen huge demonstrations of social unrest in previous months, sparked by financial chaos and efforts to reach a deal with the European Union on a bail-out for its economy.

Talks to try to form a new government have been ongoing since elections on Sunday failed to produce a conclusive result.

And while Olympic leaders gathered for the pristine ceremony on Thursday, the economic crisis has hit Greek sport and games preparation.

Some Athens 2004 venues have fallen into disrepair and the country's athletics federation has suspended domestic events amid severe national funding cuts.

London 2012 Olympic torch relay

Torch relay graphic

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Several international companies including BMW have stepped in to help fund the torch's journey around Greece.

The Greek leg of the 2012 torch relay ends at the Panathenaic Stadium, Athens, on Thursday 17 May, where the flame is handed over to London Olympic Games organisers.

The stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

The last torchbearers in Greece will be Greek weightlifter Pyrros Dimas and Chinese gymnast Li Ning - who lit the cauldron at the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony.

The 2008 Olympic torch relay, which travelled the globe, was dogged by pro-Tibet, democracy and anti-China protests.

The 2012 flame will travel straight from Greece to the UK on 18 May, flying into the Royal Navy airbase at Culdrose, near Helston in Cornwall.

London 2012 Olympic torch The torch will travel 1,800 miles through Greece and 8,000 in the UK

The UK torch relay begins at Land's End the following morning when three times Olympic gold medal-winning sailor Ben Ainslie will be the first to carry the torch on British soil.

He wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "It is a privilege for me to be asked but, more than anything, it is an exciting moment for the country.

"The arrival of the torch on home soil really brings home how close the Games are."

Olympic gold medal-winning track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy will carry the Olympic flame in Manchester on 23 June, he announced on Twitter.

Carried by 8,000 torchbearers, the Barber Osgerby-designed torch will cover 8,000 miles across all of the country's nations and regions.

It is due to reach the Olympic Stadium in Stratford on 27 July to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

For the ancient Greeks, fire was a divine element believed to have been stolen from the Gods.

A flame was first lit at the modern Olympics at the Amsterdam 1928 summer games, but it was not until Berlin 1936 that a torch relay route was set out from Greece to Germany.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Does the flame burn naturally or does it use some performance enhancing accelerant?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Is some positivity really too much to ask for? We bid for the Olympics prior to the recession, and it has kept a huge number of people employed during the downturn. I would also like to think that Britain will be better at utilising the stadiums etc once it is all over than the Greeks, who obviously (no offence meant) have no concept of responsibility or money management.

  • Comment number 176.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Hahahah. I see that the Editor for the Editor's Pick has picked an unrepresentative bunch of posts that are positive about the games. While all the most Highly Rated ones are all negative about them and the most Highly Rated one itself has now been removed for suggesting Lord Coe lodge his torch in what would be admittedly a rather uncomfrotable location!

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    The Olympic bid was won in 2005, the 'global economic crisis' was in 2008 by which time I'm assuming most of the contracts had been signed. Then there was a general election in 2010 then the Tories started their 'savage cuts' Can everyone stop talking like we won the bid last week? It's been seven years!

    Oh and Aikiguy, wanting everyone with tickets to be put out, you're sick y'now that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    170. tigersimon
    ...115 Paul..."They cut public spending so my wife who works for the Police has had no pay rise for three years."
    But she has a job!
    I'm so very humble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Since they are so keen on Greece, why not move the games there where the flame is rather than have the flame brought here? It would save a lot of trouble for Londoners!

    It seems daft to me to bring a light all the way here from Greece - why not light the flame here with a match - surely it would have been cheaper!

    But then this kind of stupidity has marked the games from the start, hasn't it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Let's hope that the bus drivers do go on strike and contribute to the Olympics being a big flop. The hype is going to become unbearable, the nearer we get. I love doing sport (including judo, which leaves a lot to be desired in the Olympics - just two blokes trying to muscle each other over with little finesse), but this is the last thing Britain needs right now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    ...115 Paul..."They cut public spending so my wife who works for the Police has had no pay rise for three years."
    But she has a job!

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Oh please. You've picked one example of many Olympics over the course of my lifetime, and the only one that had a negative outcome. You get a gold medal for the thinnest argument. Quit complaining and don't waste your breath, because you can't change a thing. It's happening, so deal with it. And the same goes for any other anti-Olympites out there. Do something positive with your time

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    That is the campest thing I've seen all year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Just a thought to those linking the Greek economic situatio and Athens' hosting of the Olympics - Beijing hosted the Games 4 years ago, and they're not doing so badly.

    And I should imagine the British tourist industry, which employs many British people - won't be too unhappy either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.


    The highlight of the day was surely the extinguishing of the flame by a gust of wind. Not so eternal after all.


    Yes, but remember it was in Greece after all. It would not have happened if the Olympics were in Berlin. They've had years of practice keeping flames alive! lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    No one wants the games in London - except a dew Londoners and even they aren't sure.

    Millions spent and to be spent. Fat cats get seats, Joe Public doesn't.

    Lord Coe smirking "I'm alright Jack" - how much IS he being paid?

    Country in crisis - let's spend money saved by robbing pensioners on the Olympics!

    Even the Olympic flame went out - now there is a sign for you - cancel the games now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.


    Guardian Poll

    Question - Are you looking forward to the Olympics?


    Yes - 31.5%

    No - 68.5%

    I rest my case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    148. HELEN_of_TROY.

    Just because you were kidnapped by two rougish Athenians there no need to pout over Olympics, you know. It was a long time ago you know!. ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Good job the ancient Olympics started in Greece instead of the UK. We'd have spent a week or more trying to kindle a flame from a mirror at the moment, that's if we weren't stopped from trying by the health and safety boys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    On seeing the headline my first thought was imagining a Banksy type image of the torch being lit from a petrol bomb or riot strewn burning wreckage in the heart of Athens.

    I doubt the Greeks are as exited about the games as we are constantly told that we are supposed to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    143. golfghost

    Hope there is a GOLD Medal for money wasting, we have a chance of winning that one....;)


    Absolutely agree... Just check out our benefits system, and red-tape ridden public sector... we're world beaters in money wasting...

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Was up north the other week lecturing on sports science and the students love sport they can’t see why they were not picked as ideal ambassadors for the games. Inspiring young people is one thing but mugging the idea of fair Olympics from sports students is another


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