Amid virus precautions, Tokyo Olympic flame is lit in Greece

Japan 2020

Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of the High Priestess, lights up the torch during the flame lighting ceremony at the closed Ancient Olympia site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Greek Olympic officials are holding a pared-down flame-lighting ceremony for the Tokyo Games due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. Both Wednesday’s dress rehearsal and Thursday’s lighting ceremony are closed to the public, while organizers have slashed the number of officials from the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, as well as journalists at the flame-lighting. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The flame for the Tokyo Olympics was lit Thursday at the birthplace of the ancient games in a pared-down ceremony because of the coronavirus.

Standing in front of the ruined Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia, a Greek actress playing the part of a pagan priestess used a concave mirror to focus the sun’s rays on a silver torch, causing fire to spurt forth.

After a seven-day relay through Greece, the flame will be delivered to Tokyo organizing officials next week at a ceremony in the rebuilt ancient stadium in Athens where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

The ceremonial part of Thursday’s flame-lighting was held with customary mock-archaic splendor: Young men and women dressed in pleated robes, a prayer to Apollo — the ancient Greek god of light — and dancing to flutes and drums under a splendid blue sky as blackbirds sang.

But fears of the coronavirus forced Greek officials to ban members of the public from attending the ceremony and severely curtail the number of invited officials and journalists. Normally, several thousand people from many countries gather on the earthen banks of Olympia’s ancient stadium to watch the ceremony.

The ancient games were held in Olympia for more than 1,000 years until they were stopped in early Christian times because of their pagan past.

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