ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — Using the sun's rays, the Olympic flame lighting for the Winter Games in Sochi went off without a hitch in southern Greece Sunday, ahead of its journey across Russia's nine time zones and even a trip to space before the Feb. 7-23 games.
The ceremony was held with actresses dressed as ancient priestesses at the birthplace of the Greek games held in antiquity, with the flame lighting using a parabolic mirror.
Actress Ino Menegaki, in the role of high priestess, called out to the ancient god of the sun, Apollo, before the flame was lit and passed to 18-year-old Greek alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou. NHL star Alex Ovechkin was the first Russian involved in the torch relay.
Moments before the being handed the torch, the Washington Capitals winger said: "To be honest with you, it's going to be (an) experience for all my life, and you know, I am proud to be Russian and proud to be here."
Newly elected International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was present at the ceremony. He said he had discussed an ongoing controversy with games organizers about Russia's record on the treatment of gays and had received assurances of non-discrimination at the games.
"We have the assurances of the highest authorities in Russia, and yesterday I spoke with the Russian delegation here in Olympia again and they reassured us that the Olympic Charter will fully apply for all the participants of the games," he said.
Sunday's 20-minute ancient re-enactment, involving 21 priestesses dressed in cream-colored pleated dresses, marked the start of the build-up to the games — centered on the torch relay.
The Russian leg of the relay is set to cover more than 40,000 miles before the Winter Games, carrying the torch by hot-air balloon, dog sled and a nuclear-powered ice breaker before its scheduled trip to space on Nov. 7.