The torch for the Pyeongchang 2018 winter was lit in ancient Olympia on Tuesday with the backup flame in the dress rehearsal because of rainy weather, kicking off the countdown for the first winter Games in Asia outside Japan.
The run-up into the Feb. 9-25 Olympics was overshadowed by the escalating crisis on the Korean peninsula triggered by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests but organisers said the Games are secure.
The traditional service, introduced for the first time before the 1936 Berlin Olympics, didn’t benefit this time in the Greek sun.
Light clouds and rain compelled the high priestess, played by actress Katerina Lechou, to deploy Monday’s backup flame rather than the reflector used to light the fire using the sun’s rays.
“Our dream of hosting the Olympic winter Games has become a reality. Korea is the second Asian country to have the honor of hosting the winter Games,” Games chief Lee Hee-beom stated.
“We want the global community to realize that we’re committed to hosting a safe and secure Olympic winter Games.”
The ceremony in the stadium, site of the ancient Olympics, was also attended by South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and the President of Greece, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
“The Olympic Games are sacred and universal,” Bach said.
“They stand above and beyond all of the gaps that divide us. In our fragile world which appears to be drifting apart, the Olympic Games have the capacity to unite humanity in all its diversity.”
Former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung, one of the most successful and decorated athletes out of his nation, was the first South Korean to run with the torch, picking up the fire from Greece’s Nordic skier Apostolos Aggelis, the first torch-bearer, just outside the ancient stadium.
“We will be certain that you show the world how we’ve grown up, how we could organise this sports event,” Park told reporters after his brief run.
“This is larger than Seoul (summer Olympics) 1988. These are the greatest winter Olympics ever and I am eager to be a part of it.”
The fire is due to arrive in South Korea on Nov. 1 to the beginning of the domestic torch relay as organisers seem to boost local excitement amid low ticket sales.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen lately as Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump exchanged threats and insults over the North’s nuclear and missile development programme.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail