Originally created 11/27/05

Clouds part to set torch aflame



ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece - After days of rain, the clouds parted Saturday over the birthplace of the Olympics to let the sunlight kindle a flame for the Turin Winter Games.

Lit at a practice session amid ruined temples on the eve of the official ceremony, the flame will be kept as backup - to be sent to Italy for the Feb. 10-26 Games - in case of clouds today.

Rain is forecast for today, and bad weather affected ceremonies for the 2000 Sydney Summer Games and Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002 and Nagano in 1998.

A Greek actress dressed as a high priestess of antiquity offered a traditional prayer on Saturday to the sun god Apollo and Zeus, chief god in the ancient pantheon. She then used a concave steel mirror to focus the sun on a silver torch, which lit after a couple of minutes.

"Effectively, the invocation is a call on a higher power - whether you want to name it God, Christ, Apollo, Zeus, Buddha or Allah - that inspires and moves humankind to improve itself," actress Theodora Siarkou said.

On Sunday, Siarkou and 17 female followers - all wearing pleated white dresses and sandals - will carry the flame in a copy of an ancient Greek pot to a cypress-ringed clearing named after baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics.

Next to a marble pillar, under which the French baron's heart is buried, she will kindle the official flame for the 20th Winter Games in the presence of Turin organizing chief Valentino Castellani and Greek Olympic Committee President Minos Kyriakou.

After the ceremony, 534 runners will carry the torch through Greece over 10 days on a 1,250-mile trip. The end of the flame's Greek itinerary will include an event Dec. 6 at the restored ancient marble stadium of Athens that was used as an archery venue at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The flame then goes to Italy for a 64-day, 7,020-mile relay involving 10,000 torchbearers.

On its first day in Italy, the torch - designed by Ferrari and Fiat engineers Pininfarina SpA - will enter the Vatican to be blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Later, soccer stars Francesco Totti of AS Roma and Paolo Di Canio of Lazio will set aside the traditional rivalry of their teams to light each other's torch in the relay.

The last torchbearer, whose name has not been revealed, will light the flame at the opening ceremony on Feb. 10 in Turin.