Olympic flame handed to Vancouver organizers

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ATHENS, Greece (AP)

Greek officials handed over the Olympic flame to organizers of next year's Vancouver Winter Games in Thursday's ceremony involving actresses dressed as ancient priestesses. The hand-over took place in the Greek capital at the marble Panathenian Stadium, where the first modern games were held in 1896. Greek Olympic Committee head Spyros Capralos presented the flame, lit last week at Ancient Olympia, to Vancouver Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong during the hour-long ceremony. "Today, we accept the Olympic flame with humility, with respect and with joy," Furlong said. "This moment marks the beginning of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic torch relay - our 106-day odyssey of hope and peaceful celebration leading to the opening of the 21st Olympiad." After an eight-day trip through Greece, the flame will be flown to Canada for a 45,000-kilometer (28,000-mile) journey across the country. The Vancouver Olympics will be held Feb. 12-28. The flame is being kept in a miner's lantern and will be flown in a Canadian military plane to Victoria, British Columbia, on Friday. It will then be carried by about 12,000 torchbearers who are runners, skiers, mountain bikers and other volunteers using horse-drawn carriages, kayaks, tractors and snowmobiles to cross the world's second largest country. Thursday's ceremony was attended by Governor General of Canada Michaelle Jean and Greek President Karolos Papoulias. Several hundred spectators and dignitaries watched Greek-Canadian figure skater Nikki Georgiadis end the Greece leg of the relay and carry the torch into the restored horse shoe-shaped ancient stadium. Fifteen actresses, dressed as priestesses from ancient Greece, carried olive branches and formed a circle around a cauldron while accompanied by music from a flute and drum. Car horns from drivers stuck in traffic due to the ceremony could be heard in the background. Capralos said members of the Greek public have displayed an "overwhelming response" to the torch relay. "In every single meter of the 2,200 kilometers it covered, it met with deeply touched, hospitable hearts, willing to adopt the eternal messages of love, peace, friendship and solidarity among people," he said. Security around the Athens stadium was minimal compared with last year's major police operation, when protests in Greece by pro-Tibetan and human rights groups after the flame was lit for the Beijing Olympics set the stage for similar demonstrations along the international torch route. --- On the Net: Vancouver Olympics: http://www.vancouver2010.com/

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