Sochi flame rehearsal a success
ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP)
Using the sun's rays at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics, organizers carried out a successful rehearsal Saturday to light the flame for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, before embarking on a massive relay that will carry the torch as far as outer space.
Under clear skies, actresses dressed as ancient priestesses took part in the rehearsal at Ancient Olympia in southern Greece -- lighting the torch using a parabolic mirror. The flame will be kept in reserve for the actual ceremony to be held Sunday.
Thomas Bach, elected this month as the new president of the International Olympic Committee, will attend Sunday's ceremony.
The Russian leg of the torch relay is set to cover 65,000 kilometers (40,390 miles) before the Feb. 7-23 Winter Games.
"We can't wait to start tomorrow. It will be a very exciting moment for us," said Dmitry Chernyshenko, chief organizer of Sochi 2014.
"The Olympic flame is about to begin an epic journey ... traveling all nine time zones of Russia in 123 days. It will be carried by 14,000 proud torchbearers," he said.
"The Olympic torch will travel by reindeer, dog sled, snow mobiles, boats and even hot air balloon and many other vehicles, and of course by foot, by car and tens of thousands of kilometers by train, by plane."
The flame would be carried into space on Nov. 7, he said.
"It will go to the North Pole by nuclear power icebreaker and yes it will travel to space ... and the same torch will be used to light the flame during the opening ceremony."
The weekend ceremony was overshadowed by the arrest in Athens of the leadership of the country's far-right Golden Dawn party on charges of forming a criminal organization.
At Ancient Olympia, hundreds of visitors watched the rehearsal that went off with one minor hitch: The first torchbearer, Greek Alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou, had trouble with his torch and waited patiently but in vain for it to light.
"We didn't know they were going to use the torch in the rehearsal, so the gas bottle had been removed," Chernyshenko said. "It's been built to work in some very difficult terrain, so it will be fine tomorrow, you will see."
Antoniou will pass the flame to Russian NHL star Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals winger, at the start of the Greek leg of the relay, covering roughly 2,000 kilometers (around 1,250 miles) until an Oct. 7 handover ceremony in the Panathenian Stadium in Athens, venue of the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Greece's National Weather Service is predicting clear skies at Ancient Olympia Sunday, with high temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 Fahrenheit).