Greece Passes Olympic Flame to London

May 18, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Princess Anne of Britain holds the Olympic torch
Princess Anne of Britain holds the Olympic torch during a ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece on May 17. (Aris Messinis/AFP/GettyImages)

ATHENS, Greece—The Olympic flame passed from Greece to the U.K. on Thursday, in a soggy ceremony at Athens’s Panathenaic Stadium. A few thousand Greeks were there to witness Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos hand the flame to Princess Anne, president of the British Olympic Association.

The marble open-air Panathenaic Stadium is the site of the first modern Olympic Games that took place in 1896, and can host up to 60,000 people.

Despite the low turnout due to heavy rainfall, spectators enthusiastically shouted “Hellas, Hellas,” meaning “Greece,” as the torch was brought into the stadium.

The torch was first lit in Olympia on May 10, in a ceremony that concentrated the sun’s rays using a parabolic mirror, enough to spark a flame. The Olympic torch then traveled through 43 Greek cities over the next eight days.

Thursday’s ceremony was attended by a delegation from the United Kingdom, including David Beckham, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson.

There was ancient Greek dancing and a bright, peaceful future represented by the symbolic passing of the Olympic torch from little Greek children to older British ones.

From the hands of Princess Anne, the fire was transferred to a small lantern to make the journey by plane to the U.K. on Friday. From there it will begin an 8,000-mile, 70-day tour around the country, eventually arriving at Olympic Park in London.

In ancient Greece, whenever the Olympic Games were about to start, wars stopped and peace prevailed for as long the Olympics continued. In modern times, the greatest headache for host cities is how to ensure airtight security, without making the event feel like a lock down.

The previous Summer Olympics flame ceremony, for the 2008 games in Beijing, became almost synonymous with controversy. As the torch traveled around the world, it frequently faced protests over human rights abuses committed by the Chinese regime. In the end, a thick, moving wall of Chinese security personnel flanked the run of every torchbearer across the world.

For Greece today, the focal point of the European debt crisis, its main preoccupation at all levels of politics and society, is how to live with the severe austerity regime mandated by international creditors.

Nonetheless, for some Greeks who attended the ceremony, the Olympics still carries that deeper meaning, and sense of hope. “I would like to stop this crisis and end homelessness. I would like countries to unify in order to find a better solution and the Olympic spirit to bring love and conciliation to all nations,” said Panagiotis Tiligadis, 22, a student in Athens.

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