OLYMPIA, Greece -- The flame that will burn during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games was lit at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics on Tuesday, marking a symbolic start of the torch relay that will involve thousands of people around the globe.
With the first Winter Olympics in South Korea 108 days away, the flame for the PyeongChang Games was born at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece, using a backup flame due to rain. It was the first time since the lighting ceremony for the 2000 Sydney Summer Games that a backup flame was used to kindle the Olympic torch.
Actress Katerina Lehou as high priestess, right, lights the torch of bearer Greek cross-country skier Apostolos Angelis during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to Pyeongchang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP-Yonhap)
The Olympic flame is traditionally created using a concave mirror to focus the sun's rays. But with insufficient sunlight due to rainy weather, Greek actress Katerina Lehou, who dressed as a high priestess for the lighting ceremony, had to get the Olympic flame from a small ceramic pot containing a flame from Monday's rehearsal.
The flame-lighting ceremony was attended by hundreds of guests including President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach, President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Capralos and Mayor of Ancient Olympia Euthumios Kotzas.
From South Korea, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, Korean Sport and Olympic Committee President Lee Kee-heung, and Lee Hee-beom, who leads the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games, were at the ceremony choreographed by Artemis Ignatiou.
This was the second time that South Koreans have come to Greece for the Olympic flame lighting. South Korea last received the flame before the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.
Lee Hee-beom said the lighting of the Olympic flame marks a "very significant moment" in South Korean history.
"Our dream of hosting the Olympic Winter Games has now become a reality," he said. "The PyeongChang Winter Games are an Olympics of peace and harmony. We're ready to welcome the world and spread this message of peace and harmony."
Bach said the Olympic flame and the Olympic Games will inspire the world again.
"The Olympic values of peace, respect and understanding are important in our fragile world," he said. "Then, as now, the Olympic Games are a symbol of hope and peace. It is this heritage that we're honoring today."
Bach also thanked South Koreans for preparing for the Olympic Games, adding that PyeongChang will open up a "new horizon."
"With the lighting of the flame, we connect the passion of the Korean people with the world," he said. "The Olympic Games in PyeongChang 2018 will show the world that our values of shared humanity are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us."
Following a dance performance on the slope of Panathinaiko Stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games were staged in 1896, the High Priestess handed the flame to the first torchbearer, Greek cross-country skier Apostolos Angelis, to start the torch relay.
Angelis then transported the torch to the Pierre de Coubertin Grove, where South Korean football icon Park Ji-sung, who also serves as an honorary ambassador for the 2018 PyeongChang Games, was waiting to carry the flame.
The IOC said the Olympic flame will take a tour of Greece for the next eight days with some 505 torchbearers covering 2,129 kilometers of Greek soil. The flame will be officially handed to the PyeongChang organizers at the Panathenaic Stadium next Tuesday.
After the handover ceremony, the flame will travel 8,500km east to the South Korean port city of Incheon, arriving on Nov. 1 to mark 100 days to the Olympic Games opening ceremony.
The POCOG said 7,500 runners will participate in the relay that covers 2,018 km. The flame will travel to nine provinces and eight major cities in South Korea before it arrives at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony on Feb. 9, 2018. (Yonhap)