The countdown to the Rio 2016 Games formally began Thursday morning (Greek time) with the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic torch in southern Greece.

The Ancient Flame will travel through Greece before reaching Brazil on 3 May.

Some 12,000 people will carry the flame on its journey to the Maracana Stadium for the Opening Ceremony on 5 August 2016.

During the Lighting ceremony, that was successfully organized by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, the Olympic Flame was lit by the sunrays in the hands of the High Priestess Katerina Lehou, a ceremony honored by the presence of the President of the Hellenic Republic as well as the President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach.

The High Priestess passed the Flame to the first torchbearer, world champion in gymnastics, Lefteris Petrounias, who opened the Torch Relay for Rio. Giovane Gavio, Olympic medalist in volleyball representing Brasil, was the second torchbearer.

The ritual of the dance of the priestesses, inspired by the choreographer Artemis Ignatiou, was presented to the musical composition of Giannis Psimadas. The priestesses and the dancers impressed the audience, wearing traditional costumes designed by Eleni Kyriakou.

Thousands of people from Greece and abroad watched the Lighting Ceremony and applauded the performers who excelled themselves.

The minister of the Interior Panagiotis Kouroublis, the Minister for Sport Stavros Kontonis, the IOC Vice Presidents, Nawal El Moutawakel, Zaiqing Yu, the IOC honorary member Lambis Nikolaou, the President of the Organizing Committee of “Rio 2016” and the IOC member, Carlos Nuzman, the HOC Secretary General Manolis Katsiadakis, the President of the International Olympic Academy Isidoros Kouvelos, the deputy of the Greek Parliament, Dora Bakoyianni, the President of the Union of Centrists, Vassilis Leventis and many HOC members.

The 1st torchbearer, Lefteris Petrounias, after passing the flame to the 2nd torchbearer, said: “This is the biggest moment in my career and I feel very proud. I want to thank the Hellenic Olympic Committee for this honour and all the Greeks for the warm welcome. I hope live up to their expectations and make everyone happy in Rio”.

Katerina Lehou passes the Flame

In his speech, the IOC President Thomas Bach underlined: “The Flame is an ancient symbol of peace and harmony, a symbol of the power of humanity to come together despite our differences. This will be the legacy of the Olympic Games for Brazil and for the world. The torch relay will spread the message of our shared humanity to all people of the beautiful country of Brazil, a nation that is built on the idea that its strength comes from uniting all of its cultural richness. Brazil is unique in its diversity. Let the celebration of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in this vast and wonderful country show the world the true meaning of unity in diversity.”

The President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Capralos said: “This Flame is the strongest bond bringing together the games of antiquity with the games of the modern era. It sends messages from the older times which remain most contemporary even today.

In the course of thousand years of humanity, what has remained unchanged is the constant appeal of sport and the timeless values of Olympism.

These values go beyond people, history and borders; today, they are more significant than ever before, especially for the youth, our hope for the future and those to whom you addressed yourself, Mr. President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, with the renewal of the Olympic movement through the Agenda 2020.

President of Democracy Prokopis Pavlopoulos arrives in Olympia

The Flame holds a very special place within the heart of Greek people. We feel that it carries along its long journey a piece of our home country. Its very special messages will be sent with the Torch Relay, about to start very soon from Greece and carry on in Brazil.”

On behalf of the organizing city, Carlos Nuzman said: “The fundamental meaning of the Olympic Games is the lesson that there are no rights or wrongs when we work for the generations to come. No one can build the future alone. We are humbly grateful to President Bach and the International Olympic Committee for their guidance, their help and their support. The contribution of every single person in the IOC – staff, honorary members and members – was vital. And we thank them for being with us through this amazing journey. They believed in dream and they later helped us to build it
We are here, for the kindness and the hard work of the Hellenic Olympic Committee. The more we come to Greece, the more we feel at home. Thank you my friends.”

The Mayor of Ancient Olympia, Efthymios Kotzas, said in his speech: “Today, more than ever before, at a time where wars still leave people without a country and athletes without a flag, the message of the Olympic Games for peace and brotherhood among people, is substantial and compelling.

History’s challenges did not blow out the Olympic Flame. The revival of the games 120 years ago opened a new chapter for humanity, a hopeful prospective for every human being on this planet”.