The countdown to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games began on Thursday with the lighting of the Olympic flame in ancient Olympia, Greece.

Ignited by the rays of the sun in a traditional ceremony at 12:00 noon, Greek Time, (10:00 GMT) the flame was carried to the ancient stadium of Olympia, where it was viewed by the public, media and invited guests of the Hellenic Olympic Committee. The flame lighting event is the beginning of the 7 day torch relay organised by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, which will be the first leg of the torch relay before the flame embarks on its first ever global relay.

Several speakers made remarks at the event, including International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, Hellenic Olympic Committee Chairman Lambis Nikolaou and the mayor of Olympia, Giannis Skoularikis.

The flame will travel from ancient Olympia, where the first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC, through the Peloponnese, the islands of the Saronic Gulf, and finally to the Panathinaiko stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Highlights, images and information about the historic first seven days in Greece will be available on the official Athens 2004 website:

‘It was in Olympia that everything began; and today that everything is going to begin for Athens 2004,’ said IOC President Jacques Rogge. ‘What better image of universality can the Organising Committee offer than to organise the first global Olympic torch relay. The flame will travel across the five continents, symbolised by the five rings, linking them together, removing political, religious, social and cultural barriers.’

‘Today we light a torch that will truly light the world’ said Athens 2004 President, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. ‘The Athens 2004 torch relay honors and extends the ancient traditions that gave birth to the Olympic Games. This year’s relay takes our tradition to a higher level. For the first time ever, an Olympic Torch Relay will truly circle the globe, celebrating peace and Olympism around the world and in Greece, as we prepare for the homecoming of the Olympic Games.’

This first leg will end on 31-March in Athens at the Panathinaiko stadium, where it will remain lit until 3-June, when the Organising Committee for the Olympic Games Athens 2004 launches the international portion of the first-ever global Olympic Torch Relay, a journey that will include 34 cities worldwide, (including ancient Olympia) as well as Africa and South America for the first time. On 9-July, the relay will return to Greece to continue its journey, traveling throughout the country before lighting the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games on 13 August. The Athens 2004 Torch Relay is presented by Coca-Cola and Samsung.

‘Pass the flame, unite the world’ is the theme of the Athens 2004 Torch Relay that will bring the flame to every city that has hosted the Olympic Summer Games, as well as Beijing, 2008 host city and other select cities on the international route.

The time-honored lighting ceremony features a high priestess, who lights the Olympic flame in the Temple of Hera using a parabolic mirror to capture the sun’s rays and ignite an Olympic torch. The flame is then transferred to the first torchbearer. In ancient Greece, fire symbolised the creation of the world, as well as renewal and light.

‘Today’s lighting of the Olympic flame is very special to The Coca-Cola Company, as it marks the fourth time that we have served as a Presenting Partner of the Olympic Torch Relay,’ said Doug Daft, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. ‘This first truly global Torch Relay provides us with the opportunity to share Olympic experiences and values with communities around the world,’

‘We are very proud to be a presenting partner of the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay,’ said Jong Yong Yun, Vice Chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics. ‘And we are honoured that the Relay enables Samsung to bring such a unique sporting icon to communities and peoples across the globe, unifying and inspiring them to celebrate the best in humanity.’

The flame will be carried by more than 11,000 torchbearers throughout the world and Greece. Information about the routes and torchbearers will be announced in May.

For more details contact:

+30 1 2004 002