President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Kapralos (left) hands the torch to Vice-President of the Chinese Olympic Committee Yu Zaiqing during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece on Oct 19, 2021. The flame will be transported by torch relay to Beijing, China, which will host the Feb 4-20, 2022 Winter Olympics. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)
ATHENS - The Beijing 2022 Olympic flame is now heading to China after it was handed over to the Chinese organizers in the Greek capital here on Tuesday.
The flame was ignited Monday in a traditional lighting ceremony at the site of the ancient Olympic Games, marking the start of its journey to China where the Winter Games will begin in just over 100 days.
In a brief ceremony closed to spectators in Athens' Panathenaic stadium, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the flame was received by Beijing 2022 representative and vice president Yu Zaiqing.
The flame was ignited Monday in a traditional lighting ceremony at the site of the ancient Olympic Games, marking the start of its journey to China where the Winter Games will begin in just over 100 days
"As you may recall, it was right here 13 years ago, on March 30, 2008 that the Olympic flame was handed over to Beijing for the first time," Yu said during his address at the ceremony.
"Over the past 13 years, China's efforts to promote the Olympic spirit, the Olympic culture and the Olympic knowledge have never stopped. The Olympic Movement has witnessed further development in China.
"The Olympic flame will be passed on to Beijing for the second time. As a symbol of the Olympic spirit, the Olympic flame will travel to the Great Wall and across other parts of China, bringing with it the light of peace and friendship."
Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess, lights the torch with the flame during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece on Oct 19, 2021. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach also attended the handover ceremony after witnessing the lighting of the flame in Ancient Olympia.
The flame will arrive in Beijing on Wednesday. After a special welcoming ceremony, it is due to be displayed at the Beijing Olympic Tower and the itinerary of the domestic torch relay will be announced.
On Monday, Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou played the role of high priestess as she lit a torch from the rays of the sun using a parabolic mirror in Ancient Olympia, with the Olympic flame eventually passed to Greek Alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou, the first torchbearer for the simplified relay.
Traditionally, the Olympic flame would be relayed across Greece by athletes from all over the world, visiting cities and archaeological sites on its journey. In 2021, the relay has been significantly shortened as a result of COVID-19 precautions, a rationale which also prompted the decision not to allow spectators at the ceremonies in both Ancient Olympia and Athens' Panathenaic stadium.
Dancers perform during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece on Oct 19, 2021. (PETROS GIANNAKOURIS / AP)
Only three athletes - Antoniou, Chinese short track speed skater Li Jiajun, and Greek cross-country skier Paraskevi Lapdopoulou - completed a small part of the flame's journey.
During Tuesday's handover ceremony, China's Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 freestyle ski silver medallist Li Nina ran a lap with the torch inside the horseshoe-shaped marble stadium before Greece's Olympic Committee chief Spyros Capralos handed over the lit torch to Yu Zaiqing.
"Both I, and all Greeks, wish you good luck at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. Your history, your culture, your traditions, your faith in values and your great love for sport, give us the assurance, that you will organize excellent Games next February. Just as you did in 2008, with the Summer Olympic Games," Capralos said during his address.
Dual Olympic City
The Olympic flame's arrival at Beijing's National Stadium on February 4, 2022 will be a homecoming event. It was just 13 years ago, on a hazy evening at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Games, when a lone runner, hoisted to the collar that rings the top of the arena, ran on air and touched his torch to the cauldron to begin the 29th Summer Games.
That runner was Li Ning, the three-time gold medal-winning Chinese gymnast from the 1984 Los Angeles Games. His loping strides closed an astonishing display of human precision.
Vice-President of the Chinese Olympic Committee Yu Zaiqing holds the Olympic flame during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece on Oct 19, 2021. The flame will be transported by torch relay to Beijing, China, which will host the Feb 4-20, 2022 Winter Olympics. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)
This time, however, it's the ice and snow of the Winter Olympics for China rather than the tracks and green fields of the Summer Games.
With 10 international test events, two domestic test events and three international training weeks scheduled in Beijing between October and December, Beijing 2022 will ramp up for the final stretch.
China has repeatedly asserted that its top priority in holding the Olympics is the health and safety of all those involved in the Games.
"Committed to a green, inclusive, open and clean approach to preparing and hosting the Games, we will deliver a streamlined, safe and splendid Games, which hopefully will help promote the Olympic Movement and the building of a global community of shared future," Yu said at the handover ceremony.
The Olympic Games Builds Bridges
The 2022 Winter Olympics is less than five months away. Just as the 2022 Games motto "Together for a Shared Future" goes, the IOC has called on mankind to stay united in harmony in the face of common challenges to come.
In his speech in the ancient stadium of Olympia, Bach stressed that the Olympic Games has always stood above conflict.
"The Olympic Games cannot address all the challenges in our world. But the Olympic Games set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another. They inspire us to solve problems in friendship and solidarity. They build bridges leading to better understanding and friendship among people. This is the timeless message that this Olympic flame will send from our spiritual home here in Ancient Olympia, to Beijing, and to the world," he said.
The IOC chief was also oozing confidence that China could pull off a brilliant event for sports fans around the world.
President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Kapralos (left) looks on as Vice President of the Chinese Olympic Committee Yu Zaiqing (center) holds the Olympic flame during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece on Oct 19, 2021. (PETROS GIANNAKOURIS / AP)
"We are all looking forward to a great and successful Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, when Beijing will write history as the first ever city to organize both editions of the Olympic Games, Summer and Winter, and when we will celebrate with the Chinese people a great festival of sport and winter sport," said Bach.
Greek Deputy Culture and Sports Minister Lefteris Avgenakis echoed that sentiment during an interview with Xinhua. "We are very happy that Beijing is hosting the Olympics again; this time, after 2008, the 2022 Winter Olympics. It will succeed just as well in organizing the forthcoming Winter Olympics," said Avgenakis.
Antoniou, the first torchbearer who received the flame from the High Priestess at Ancient Olympia, also sent his warmest wishes to Beijing in Chinese.
"Being an athlete trying to compete in the Olympic Games; it is something really special to be in this place," he said.
China's Olympic ski athlete Li Nina, (center) carries the torch during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece on Oct 19, 2021. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)
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