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Olympic flame lit, Ovechkin first Russian torchbearer

Sep 29, 2013, 12:34 PM EDT

The Olympic flame was lit today in Olympia, Greece, a significant milestone ahead of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

During an elaborate ceremony at the Temple of Hera, Greek actress Ino Menegaki, dressed as a high priestess in a flowing white robe, kindled the flame using sun rays reflected off a parabolic mirror. The first torch was then carried by Greek alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou, an 18-year-old who is attempting to qualify for Sochi.

Antoniou handed the torch off to Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, who became the first Russian torchbearer. Ovechkin, a veteran of two Olympics and a three-time NHL MVP, skipped the Capitals’ final preseason game Saturday night in order to be in Greece. He will rejoin his team in time for the season opener Tuesday night in Chicago.

The torch will be carried through Greece until October 6, when it is flown to Moscow to begin its 123-day odyssey to Sochi.

The Torch Relay is to be the longest in Games history, covering more than 40,000 miles and including 14,000 torchbearers. It will span 83 different regions in Russia, but two highlights will come when it leaves the country: in October, the torch will voyage to the North Pole on a nuclear-powered icebreaker called “50 Years of Victory,” and in November, it will be escorted to the International Space Station by two Russian cosmonauts.

“Just as in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games cannot settle political problems or secure lasting peace between peoples,” said Thomas Bach, the newly elected International Olympic Committee President. “The Olympic flame thus reminds us to be aware of our own Olympic limits.”

The Opening Ceremony is February 7.

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