The official countdown to this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics has begun with the lighting of the torch at the site of the ancient Games, which organisers hoped would shift attention away from Brazil’s political and financial turmoil.
On Thursday, Katerina Lehou, an actor playing a high priestess, lit a torch from the rays of the sun at the temple of Hera, using a parabolic mirror, to set off a domestic relay.
Brazilian organisers will receive the flame in a handover at the Panathenian stadium on 27 April in Athens, site of the first modern Olympics, and will start their relay on 3 May in the capital Brasília, ending in Rio for the opening ceremony.
The relay will traverse Greece for six days until the April 27 handover to Brazilian officials in Athens, at the refurbished ancient stadium where the first modern games were held in 1896.
“This is the beginning of … the last stretch of the organization,” Bach said. “We’re really looking forward to the moment when this flame is finally burning in the Olympic cauldron in Rio de Janeiro.”
Stop at Refugee Camp
In a nod to the global refugee crisis, the Greek leg will include a stop at a camp in Athens that is home to 1,500 refugees and migrants trapped in Greece — one of whom will participate in the relay — while a young Syrian boy from another camp will accompany the torchbearer in a small town just north of Olympia.
For the first time at the Rio Games, the IOC will allow a group of 5-10 refugee athletes to participate, marching behind the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony. IOC officials say there are 42 potential participants, and the final selection will be made in June.
“We thought that this is the responsibility of the International Olympic Committee to send a signal of solidarity with refugees who are fleeing their homes from war and from violence,” Bach said. “We wanted to give [them] a home in the Olympic village. We wanted to give them a flag, with the Olympic flag … an anthem to identify with — the Olympic anthem.”
After a brief stopover in Switzerland, the flame will start its travels through Brazil on May 3, starting in the capital of Brasilia. Organizers say it will reach most of the vast country’s 200 million population, covering 20,000 kilometres by road and 16,000 kilometres by air to reach hundreds of cities and towns in a giant effort involving 12,000 torchbearers.
In a departure from customary practice, Rio will have two stadiums: the Maracana for the opening and closing ceremonies and soccer, and the Olympic Stadium across town, which will be used for track and field.