Sun god Apollo presides over final flame rehearsal

Wed Apr 20, 2016 10:43am EDT
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By Karolina Tagaris

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (Reuters) - The high priestess raised her arms towards the sky, invoking the sun god Apollo at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics on Wednesday in the final rehearsal for the flame that will burn at the Rio Games later this year.

In a long pleated robe she then knelt solemnly to the ground and lit the torch within a few seconds using a concave mirror to catch the sun's rays.

Hundreds of onlookers stood quietly near the ruins of the Doric temple to the goddess Hera in Ancient Olympia, southern Greece, where Greeks competed in the ancient games. The ritual with the high priestess and the torch was only established eight decades ago for the Berlin Games.

The flame will be used as a back-up if overcast skies loom over the official ceremony on Thursday at Ancient Olympia, but weather forecasts predict that event will be similarly blessed by abundant sunshine.

"It's very special. It's been a dream of mine to come here for many, many years," said Mark Ledeux, a British tourist.

From past games Ledeux has amassed a collection of about a dozen torches. They can be bought at various sites as memorabilia.

During the rehearsal a dozen young women in long, pleated robes, escorted by a dozen male youths, danced to the rhythm of a drum and the sound of a flute, according to ancient Greek tradition.

The rehearsal ended with the high priestess, played by actress Katerina Lehou, handing the flame and an olive branch to a volunteer filling in for the first torchbearer - Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias, world champion on the rings in 2015.   Continued...

Greek actress Katerina Lehou , playing the role of High Priestess, lights a torch from the sun's rays reflected in a parabolic mirror during the dress rehearsal for the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis