Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A flame that inspires

Egypt was torch-bearer number seven at the launch of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Torch relay, writes Inas Mazhar

Al-Ahram Weekly

Sherif El-Erian, president of the Egyptian Modern Pentathlon Federation (EMPF), was the seventh torch-bearer of the 2016 Olympics flame which was lit in the ancient city of Olympia on 21 April, and will arrive in the Brazilian capital Rio de Janeiro on 5 August.

In an elaborate ceremony in the ruins of the Temple of Hera, Greek actress Katerina Lechou played the role of “high priestess” and kindled the flame using the rays of the sun reflected on a concave mirror. She then carried the sacred fire into the same dusty stadium where athletes competed nearly 3,000 years ago in the ancient Olympic Games. The ritual concluded when the high priestess passed the flame to Lefteris Petrounias, Greece’s gymnastics world champion, and launched the Rio Olympic Torch Relay.

Upon arriving in Rio, the final torchbearer – always a closely guarded secret – will ignite the cauldron in a manner that is also top-secret for the first Olympic Games in South America.

“I am honoured and proud to be representing Egypt in this special event,” said El-Erian, who is also board member of the Egyptian Olympic Committee.

During the ceremony, International Olympic Ceremony (IOC) President Thomas Bach said: “This Olympic flame is linking us with our past. It’s linking us with the birthplace of the Olympic Games and the Olympic values. It’s reaching into the present and it gives us guidance for the future.

This Olympic flame sends a message of hope and also of Olympic determination and encouragement.”

The ceremony also inspires the world and serves as a countdown to the Games, which are about 100 days away.

On 27 April, the flame will be handed over to Rio organisers at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the modern Games began in 1896. The torch, which is always accompanied by a backup, will then proceed to Switzerland to the UN headquarters in Geneva and the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. On 3 May, the flame will arrive in Brazil where the torch relay will travel through 329 cities and towns in 95 days. More than 12,000 torchbearers will have the honour of carrying the flame, usually on short stints.

Although inspired by the traditions of ancient Greece, the Olympic torch relay is only 80 years old. Carl Diem, a German sports administrator, came up with the idea in 1936 for the Berlin Games. Since, the torch relay has become a tradition of the summer Games and the flame has traveled in space, underwater, by satellite, by pony express and by camel.

According to the IOC, the flame is a “manifestation of the positive values that man has always associated with the symbolism of fire,” and its purity is guaranteed by the special way of lighting it with the sun’s rays.

“This is the place where it all started 3,000 years ago,” said Bach, a 1976 Olympic fencing champion. “And having been an athlete, I imagine how the athletes must have felt 3,000 years ago going through the shadow of the tunnel and then entering into the sun and the stadium of ancient Olympia. I can do it as often as I want and it always gives me goose bumps.”

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