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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece handed the Olympic flame to Canada, hosts of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, on Thursday for the longest domestic torch relay ever ahead of the February 12 opening ceremony.
The peaceful handover ceremony in Athens' Panathenian stadium, site of the first modern Olympics in 1896, concluded an eight-day torch relay in Greece.
High Priestess Maria Nafpliotou, an actress, and priestesses holding olive-tree branches performed a ritual surrounding the altar, after 18-year-old figure skater Niki Georgiadou brought the flame into the windy stadium.
"Today we accept the Olympic flame with humility, with respect and joy," Vancouver Games chief John Furlong said after receiving the flame.
"As we embark on this journey, the longest domestic relay in Olympic history, we take with us the knowledge that the flame symbolizes, more than a sporting event."
About 200 citizens, tourists and athletes watched Furlong carry the flame in a safety lamp outside the stadium, followed by athletes holding the Greek and the Canadian flags.
The flame will arrive in Victoria, Canada on Friday. By February 12 the flame will have travelled more than 45,000 kms by land, air and water in the hands of 12,000 torchbearers and will have visited over 1,0O0 Canadian communities.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Ingrid Melander and John Mehaffey; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com