Olympic torch begins journey to Salt Lake City for 2002 Winter Games

Monday, November 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) _ The flame that will burn at the 2002 Winter Games began its long journey to Salt Lake City on Monday after a ceremony held among the ruins where the Olympics were born.

For the third-straight Games, clouds prevented the flame from being lighted during the official ceremony at the temples of the ancient gods Hera and Zeus.

The flame is ignited in a concave mirror by the sun's rays in the mountains around the Olympics' ancient birthplace. During the ceremony, Greek actress Thalia Prokopiou, in her role as high priestess, used a flame burning in a clay urn to light the torch. The flame had been lighted in the mirror on Friday and Saturday in the presence of Salt Lake City officials.

``The fire of the Olympians inspires us, lifts us. These athletes ignite a fire within those who experience the inevitable Olympic moments of the Olympic Games,'' Mitt Romney, head of the Salt Lake City organizers, said after Monday's ceremony. ``It will light our way.''

Romney was accompanied by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, U.S. Olympic Committee President Sandy Baldwin and her Greek counterpart, Lambis Nikolaou.

Greek runners will relay the torch to a ski center near the ancient ruins of Delphi before it is taken to Athens on Tuesday. It will burn in the all-marble Panathenian stadium, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, until it leaves for Atlanta on Dec. 3.

The United States relay will start a day later and will follow a 65-day, 46-state course, arriving in Salt Lake City on Feb. 8. The only states the torch will not visit are Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii.

Romney said New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., struck by terrorists on Sept. 11, will be main stops ``in tribute to fallen citizens of the world, many redefining heroism for me and my countrymen.''

Nikolaou said the flame will convey a message of peace throughout its journey.

``At a time when humanity is shaken by tragic events, we hope that this precise message conveyed by the Olympic Flame, may find staunch supporters during its long journey,'' he said.

He also announced that 17 foreign ministers had signed a declaration in support of the Olympic Truce, which is aimed at reviving a tradition in which warring parties suspended their conflicts during the ancient Olympic Games in Greece.

Those games were held in Ancient Olympia from 776 B.C. to 394, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius abolished them after Christianity took root and he deemed them pagan.