PyeongChang takes receipt of the Olympic flame

The handover ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang took place at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on Tuesday 31 October.

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The 90-minute ceremony marked the end of the flame's week-long tour of Greece and the prelude to the 100-day journey it will now take around the Republic of Korea, in preparation for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang next February.

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Though the skies were grey in the Greek capital, there was no shortage of spectacle for the large crowd at the Panathenaic Stadium to enjoy, starting with a dance performance by the 90-strong Greek gymnastics team Olympiada Thakomakedonon.

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They gave way to a Korean singer and dance troupe, who gave a performance combining traditional and modern forms of choreography, whetting appetites for the Opening Ceremony of the next Olympic Winter Games, to be held on 9 February 2018. Their display was warmly received by the crowd, not least by a sizeable contingent of Koreans, who showed their appreciation by cheerfully waving flags.

The Philharmonic Band of the Municipality of Athens was next to take centre stage, followed by the Presidential Guard, whose arrival heralded that of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopios Pavlopoulos. Accompanied by the President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Capralos, Mr Pavlopoulos took his seat alongside the rest of the dignitaries.

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The Olympic flag was then raised to the sound of a youth choir singing the Olympic Anthem, with the flags of the Republic of Korea and Greece also being raised as the youngsters performed the two countries' national anthems.

Reprising her role as the high priestess at the flame-lighting ceremony in Olympia a week earlier, the actor Katerina Lehou made her graceful entrance with the priestesses.

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Having spent Monday evening at the Acropolis, the Olympic flame then made its eagerly awaited arrival. It was carried into the stadium by the former speed skater Kim Ki-hoon, the winner of three Olympic short-track gold medals for the Republic of Korea, who handed on to the final torchbearer, Greek skier Ioannis Proios.

Proios completed a lap of the iconic, horseshoe-shaped Panathenaic Stadium – the venue of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the inaugural modern Olympic Games in 1896 – before lighting the cauldron to the cheers of the crowd.

Following a short dance performance by the priestesses, Mr Capralos stepped forward to address the PyeongChang delegation. Speaking in Greek, Korean and English, he said: "I am sure that through your long traditions, your faith in values and your love for sport you will stage an excellent Games next February."

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Lee Hee-beom, the President of the PyeongChang Organising Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG), then took his turn to address those present. "We are ready to welcome the world to PyeongChang," he announced. "The construction of competition and non-competition venues is already complete. PyeongChang will be an Olympic Games of peace and harmony."

Then came the moment the crowd had been waiting for, as the high priestess lit the Olympic torch and presented it to Mr Capralos, who in turn delivered it to Mr Lee, with both men clutching it briefly in a moment of great symbolic importance.

As Lee held the torch aloft for everyone to see, flame was taken from it to light one of the two safety lanterns that will be used to transport the Olympic flame on its ten-hour flight 8,500km eastwards to the city of Incheon.

When it lands on Wednesday 1 November, the flame will receive the warmest of welcomes prior to the start of the PyeongChang Olympic Torch Relay. 

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