Sochi in final stretch as flame lit in Olympia

Sun Sep 29, 2013 6:11pm EDT
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By Karolos Grohmann

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (Reuters) - The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch was lit in ancient Olympia on Sunday heralding the start of what will be the longest torch relay for any Winter Games, including a trip to space, as Russia prepares to showcase its modern post-Soviet face.

The Black Sea resort of Sochi, the first Russian city to stage a Winter Olympics, will receive the flame on October 5 after a short relay in Greece, to kick off a 123-day odyssey culminating at the opening ceremony on February 7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is eager to deliver a "brilliant" Games to show how far Russia has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On a hot autumn day, Greek actress Ino Menegaki, playing a high priestess, lit the torch in seconds as the sun's rays bounced off a concave mirror at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics, a ritual first established for the 1936 Berlin Games.

"I hope the Games show the world that Russia is not only salt cucumbers and vodka," Denis Kruzhkov, 40, a university professor from a town near Sochi, told Reuters.

Wrapped in a Russian flag on the green slopes hugging the ancient stadium, he said: "I hope Sochi represents the new Russia. Sochi is multi-national and safe, and sport unites people."

After leaving Greece, the flame will travel to outer space, the bottom of Lake Baikal, the North Pole and Europe's highest peak in the mammoth trek across the vast country, carried by a record 14,000 torch-bearers.

"This is the beginning of an epic journey for the Olympic torch," Sochi Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said. "A journey that will change Russia forever."   Continued...

Greek actress Ino Menegaki (R), playing the role of High Priestess, passes the Olympic flame to a priestess during a lighting ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece September 29, 2013. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis