Rio Games countdown marked by Olympia torch ceremony

Organisers hope event will shift attention away from Brazil’s political turmoil


The official countdown to this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics began on Thursday when the torch was lit at the site of the ancient Games, with organisers hoping it will shift attention away from Brazil’s political and financial turmoil.

On a glorious spring day with the sun shining above the ancient stadium in Olympia, an actress playing a high priestess lit a torch from the rays of the sun at the temple of Hera, using a parabolic mirror, to kick off a domestic relay.

Brazilian organisers will receive the flame in a handover at the Panathenian stadium on April 27th in Athens, site of the first modern Olympics, and will start their relay on May 3rd, in the capital Brasilia, ending in Rio on the day of the opening ceremony.

Preparations for the first Games in South America, which run from August 5th-21st , 2016, have been plagued by problems and a shortage of cash for organisers as the country is experiencing its worst recession in decades.

“(The torch lighting) brings a message that can and will unite our dear Brazil, a country that is suffering much more than it deserves in its quest for a brighter future,” Rio Games chief Carlos Nuzman said in his speech.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who cancelled her trip to ancient Olympia, is facing impeachment.

The crisis has paralysed the country’s ability to revive its economy from recession in the midst of a huge corruption scandal involving state-run oil firm Petrobras.

“Despite the difficulties that Brazil is facing today, the flame is a timeless reminder that we are all part of the same humanity,” International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said.

“Rio de Janeiro... will provide a spectacular to showcase the best of the human spirit. In just a few weeks the Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and their passion for sport,” Mr Bach said.

Thursday’s ceremony marks the 80-year anniversary since the relay, which did not exist in the ancient Greek Olympics and was introduced by the Nazi organisers of the 1936 Berlin Games.