2010 flame passed to Canada in Greek ceremony
By Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
ATHENS - The flame for the 2010 Olympic Games is on its way home.
After an eight-day relay through coastal villages and mountain towns, Greek officials turned the flame over to Vancouver Olympic organizers in a ceremony Thursday night.
"My friends, Canadians, we're giving you the Olympic light to take it to your beautiful country," Spyros Capralos, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, said through a translator.
"We place it in your hands as part of our history, as part of our culture, as part of our lives.
"We're sure that the Hellenic Olympic Committee, the athletes and Greeks are happy to tell you: Good luck in 2010 in Vancouver."
The flame was handed to John Furlong, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Games' organizing committee, who noted the handover marks the beginning of the 106-day relay through Canada.
"As the flame travels across Canada's vast landscape, it will shed a light on the people, places and the achievements of our country," he said.
The ceremony included a procession of women in white flowing robes, carrying olive branches and solemnly gliding into Panathinaiko Stadium to a simple drumbeat and flute composition. They were meant to evoke the rituals of ancient Greece.
But the star of the evening was the flame itself, carried for the last time in Greece by Greek-Canadian figure skater Nikki Georgiadis.
She lit a cauldron in the centre of the stadium using a 2010 torch, itself lit from the flame ignited from the rays of the sun in a similarly elaborate ceremony last week in Olympia.
The moment marked the end of the eight-day relay through Greece.
The five Olympic rings at the Athens stadium, built for the first modern day Games in 1896, loom over the shining marble bleachers complete with built-in thrones for the dignitaries that used to watch Olympic events.
On Thursday night, those seats were filled with the president of the Greek Republic and Canadian Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.
It was a bittersweet night for Vancouver officials.
Only hours after the flame was lit in ancient Olympia on Oct. 22, the chairman of the board of directors for the Games, Jack Poole, passed away.
Among the few major announcements he'd been involved in with these Games was the launch of the torch relay route last fall and while it was known he was ill, all had hoped he'd live to see the start of the epic event.
Furlong made specific reference to "Jack" in his opening greeting in Athens on Thursday.
After the evening ceremony, the flame was passed from the hands of the Greeks to those of the Canadians.
The fire was dipped into a miner's lantern and carried out of the stadium, to be secured into a special car seat that will be strapped onto the Canadian military plane bringing it home.
The flight arrives in Victoria on Friday morning and, after a brief ceremony at the airport, the lantern will be transferred to a canoe to officially begin the torch relay in Canada.
The relay runs for 106 days and will cover 45,000 kilometres by plane, boat, bike, dogsled, skateboard and many other modes of transportation.
The final leg of the journey is in Vancouver, where the flame will be run into BC Place Stadium to light a cauldron there and signal the start of the Vancouver Games on Feb. 12.
Copyright © 2009 Canadian Press