ATHENS (Reuters) - The flame that will burn during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was handed over to organizers in Athens on Tuesday in the marble stadium that hosted the first modern Games in 1896.
After a week-long journey across Greece and an overnight stay on the Acropolis hill, the flame that was lit in Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Olympics, was carried into the Panathenaic Stadium by Korean Olympic speed skating medalist Kim Ki-hoon.
The crowd erupted into cheers as Greek skiing champion Ioannis Proios lit the golden cauldron surrounded by priestesses in long pleated robes.
“We are ready to welcome the world to PyeonChang,” Games chief Lee Hee-beom said. “Pyeongchang 2018 will be Olympic Games of peace and harmony.”
The Games take place from Feb. 9-25 in the mountainous resort town of Pyeongchang, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the heavily fortified border with North Korea.
The run-up has been overshadowed by an escalating crisis triggered by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, but organizers have said the Games will be safe.
South Korea staged the 1988 Summer Olympics and co-hosted the 2002 soccer World Cup with Japan and both events were marred by instances of aggression by North Korea.
Following Tuesday’s handover in Athens, the flame is due to arrive in South Korea on Nov. 1 for a 2,018km relay before reaching Pyeongchang for the opening ceremony on Feb. 9.
Greece hosted the Summer Olympics in 2004.
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris, editing by Ed Osmond