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May 10, 2012 at 03:26pm IST

2012 Olympic torch lit in Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia, Greece: The London 2012 Olympics torch was kindled by the sun's rays in ancient Olympia on Thursday, sparking a relay that will culminate with the lighting of the Olympic stadium's cauldron at the Games opening ceremony on July 27.

On a warm and sunny day at the site of the ancient Olympics, an actress playing the high priestess needed only a few seconds to ignite the torch with the help of a parabolic mirror. Under the bright sunny skies, there was no need for the back-up flame that was used during the final rehearsal for the Olympic torch lightening a day earlier.

After the end of a choreographed ceremony, the priestess handed over the torch to the first torchbearer, Greek swimmer and Olympic silver medallist Spyros Gianniotis.

2012 Olympic torch lit in Ancient Olympia

An actress playing the high priestess needed only a few seconds to ignite the torch with the help of a parabolic mirror.

Gianniotis is the first in a line of 490 torchbearers to carry the flame across 2,900 kilometers on Greek soil before the flame will handed over to the London Games organizers on May 17 in Athens' Panathenian Stadium, where the first modern Games were staged in 1896.

"With this ceremony we begin the final countdown to a dream that came to life seven years ago in Singapore, when London was selected to host the 2012 Games," said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

The traditional lighting ceremony was the last of his presidency, as Rogge will step down next year.

"The energy that passes from the sun to the Olympic flame will light a torch that will travel from this birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games to the country that invented modern sport and the spirit of fair play, heralding the opening of the 2012 London Games on July 27," said the Belgian surgeon, addressing Olympic, London and Greek officials inside the stadium where the ancient Games were held.

London becomes the only city to have received the Olympic flame twice - first for the 1948 Games. Britain's capital also hosted the 1908 Games, but the torch lighting ceremony and relay were only introduced for the first time for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

"I feel incredibly excited and I think it's a very, very big moment," London Games chief Sebastian Coe told Reuters just before the lighting ceremony kicked off.

Coe, a twice 1,500 metre Olympic gold medallist, visited Olympia in 1975 as an 18-year tourist, hardly expecting to be back in 37 years to watch the torch being lit for an Olympics hosted by the UK.

"For me, it really links what I did at the Los Angeles and Moscow [Games] with the ancient Games. I think for me this is probably the moment that what I did in '80 and '84 properly comes into context," he said.

In contrast to the two previous Summer Games, where the Olympic flame relay went around the globe, it will leave the UK only once, to pass though Dublin on June 6. The Olympic Games run from July 27 to August 12.

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