ATHENS (Reuters) - The Olympic flame that will burn in Rio in August for the first Games in South America was handed over to Brazil on Wednesday in the marble stadium that hosted the first modern Games in 1896.
After a six-day trek across Greece, the flame that was lit last Thursday by the sun’s rays at the birthplace of the Games in Ancient Olympia was presented to the Brazilian organizers.
From its overnight perch at the Acropolis museum, it traveled through the streets of Athens before being carried into the stadium - which was built in 330 BC - by Greek high jump Olympic medalist Niki Bakoyianni.
After a relay in the stadium, Greek rowing champion Katerina Nikolairou lit the golden cauldron, surrounded by priestesses in long pleated dresses, and the crowd erupted into cheers.
“We ... promise (to) deliver great Games,” Rio Games chief Carlos Nuzman said at the handover ceremony.
Rio de Janeiro will host the Summer Olympics from Aug. 5-21 but preparations have been plagued by the country’s worst recession in decades and attentions distracted by political turmoil.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment for alleged budget fraud and federal prosecutors are investigating Olympic projects for suspected corruption.
Ticket sales have lagged compared to previous Games, with just 62 percent sold so far, according to the Rio 2016 organizing committee.
Organizers have also grappled with pollution in waters off Rio where sailing and rowing events will be held, and an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, linked to birth defects in hundreds of children in northern Brazil.
The flame will be flown in special safety lanterns to Switzerland for a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva on Thursday.
It arrives in Brazil on May 3 for a relay across the country in the hands of 12,000 torch-bearers before reaching in Rio for the opening ceremony on Aug. 5.
Greece hosted the Summer Olympics in 2004.
Editing by Mark Heinrich