Greek actress Katerina Lechou (front R) acting the high priestess lights the Olympic flame during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in ancient Olympia, Greece, on Oct. 24, 2017. (Xinhua)
by Maria Spiliopoulou
ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- The Olympic Flame that will be burning for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics started its journey on Tuesday from the birthplace of the Games at ancient Olympia in western Greece, after a ritual ceremony.
Due to the cloudy and rainy weather, changes were made in the program of the flame lighting ceremony.
Greek actress Katerina Lehou in the role of a High Priestess, who stood before the 2,500-year-old Temple of Hera, a goddess in ancient Greek mythology, did not use a concave mirror to ignite the torch with the sun's rays, as per tradition.
Instead, she lit the torch at 12:33 a.m. local time from a replica of an ancient urn where the Sacred Flame was kept.
It was not the first time that the torch was not lit from the sun's rays during the official ceremony, Greek organizers noted, saying that the Sacred Light would still carry the best wishes of Greek people and the Olympic movement for a successful Games.
The last time the urn was used in the official lighting ceremony was in 2000 for the flame which burned for the Sydney Summer Olympics.
Following a dance performance by dozens of artists on the slope of the ancient stadium which hosted the first Games 25 centuries ago, the High Priestess passed the torch to the first torchbearer, Greek cross-country skier Apostolos Angelis, along with an olive branch.
Another dancer released a white pigeon to spread the Olympic ideals of friendship and peace to the world.
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach, President of the Organizing Committee of the PyeongChang Games Lee Hee-beom and other Greek and foreign officials attended the ceremony.
"From here, the cradle of the Olympic spirit and values, we send to the entire world the message of peace and democracy, the message of peaceful cooperation," Pavlopoulos told Xinhua and other media after the ceremony.
"It was a great start for the Olympic Winter Games of 2018 in PyeongChang... With these Games we will carry the Olympic Games into a bright future," Bach said.
The poor weather conditions did not affect the enthusiasm of the cheering crowd of locals and foreign visitors.
Despite the rain, schoolchildren from local schools in colorful uniforms formed the five Olympic circles and the Olympic anthem, the national anthem of South Korea and the national anthem of Greece were performed by children's and youth choirs.
Following the hoisting of the Olympic flag, the Games host country's flag, and the Greek flag, the Mayor of Ancient Olympia Efthymios Kotzas addressed the event.
"From these sacred grounds of Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, at the time of the relay of the Olympic Flame, I address the whole world with the message of hope, optimism and solidarity," he said.
"The flame showcases the role of sport and olympism, which contribute to the creation of a better world, through initiatives promoting dialogue, mutual understanding and solidarity," President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Capralos added during his speech.
Both the Greek hosts and Bach wholeheartedly wished great success to the PyeongChang Games.
"Our founder, Pierre de Coubertin, once said that the Olympic Games are a pilgrimage to the past and an act of faith in the future," Bach said.
The first South Korean torchbearer who received the flame burning for the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics from the Greek athlete was veteran football player Park Ji-sung.
"It is a great honor for me to represent my country and be the first runner from South Korea...I am very excited to watch the Olympics," he told Xinhua after the event.
The first leg of the relay across Greece will end next week in Athens. The Sacred Flame will be delivered on Oct. 31 to South Korean organizers in a handover ceremony at the marble Panathinaic stadium which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
The second leg of the relay in South Korea will involve 7,500 torchbearers and 2,018 support runners across its 2,018 km journey to the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on Feb. 9.