Olympics-Paris 2024 torch lit in ancient Olympia, relay under way


Paris 2024 Olympics - Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony - Ancient Olympia, Greece - April 16, 2024 Greek actress Mary Mina, playing the role of High Priestess, carries the flame during the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony for the Paris 2024 Olympics REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (Reuters) -The torch for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games was lit in ancient Olympia in a traditional ceremony on Tuesday, marking the final stretch of the seven-year preparations for the Games' start on July 26.

Greek actress Mary Mina, playing the role of high priestess, lit the torch using a backup flame instead of a parabolic mirror that is normally used, due to cloudy skies, for the start of a relay in Greece and France.

It will culminate with the lighting of the Olympic flame in the French capital at the opening ceremony. Paris will host the summer Olympics for a third time after 1900 and 1924.

"In these difficult times we are living through, with wars and conflicts on the rise, people are fed up with all the hate, the aggression and negative news they are facing day in and day out," International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said in his speech.

"We are longing for something which brings us together, something that is unifying, something that gives us hope. The Olympic flame that we are lighting today is the symbol of this hope."

The IOC has cleared the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Olympics despite the ongoing war in Ukraine but they will do so as neutral athletes with no national flag or anthem, a decision that angered Moscow.

French President Emmanuel Macron also said last week Russia would be asked to observe a ceasefire in Ukraine during the Paris Olympics. The Kremlin said Ukraine might use it as an opportunity to regroup and rearm.

Suspending armed conflicts under an Olympic truce during the Games was a standard practice in ancient Greece.

TORCH RELAY

The high priestess then lit the torch of the first runner of the relay, Greece's Olympic rowing champion Stefanos Ntouskos.

After a short run he then handed the flame on to France's three-time Olympic medallist in swimming and head of Paris' Olympic torch relay, Laure Manaudou, as the representative of the host city.

The flame will be officially handed over to Paris Games organisers in Athens's Panathenaic stadium, site of the first modern Games in 1896, on April 26 after an 11-day relay across Greece.

It will then depart the next day for France on board a three-masted ship, the ‘Belem’ where it will arrive on May 8 in Marseille, with up to 150,000 people expected to attend the ceremony in the southern city's Old Port.

The last torch bearer in Marseille will climb on the roof of the Velodrome stadium on May 9, organisers said.

Marseille, founded by the Greek settlers of Phocaea around 600 BC, will host the sailing competitions.

The French torch relay will last 68 days and will end in Paris with the lighting of the Olympic flame on July 26.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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