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Olympic flame bound for Britain
The Olympic Flame is on its way to Britain.
An actress, dressed in floor-length pleated robes, lifted the burning torch from a parabolic mirror as if the light had been beamed by the Gods directly from the sun's rays.
Only a select group of dignitaries witnessed at first-hand the flame almost automatically burst in to life in front of the Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia.
They included a 15-strong delegation from London 2012, led by chairman Lord Coe.
Only birdsong could be heard as the ritual ceremony was played out in scorching sunlight and the ancient ruins.
A solo flautist played as the delegation returned to their seats in the Ancient Stadium to see the priestesses execute a graceful ritual dance.
The flame was placed in an urn, before the high priestess and priestesses gently carried it to the stadium where it was hit by a gust of wind. Then there was a puff of smoke.
It was relit from the mother flame.
The first torchbearer was Spyros Gianniotis, Greece's England-born World champion swimmer.
Gianniotis, who has already booked his place at London 2012 which will be his fourth consecutive Olympics, proudly set off via Pierre de Coubertin's Grove.
He passed it on to 19 year-old Alex Loukos, who was one of the 30 East End schoolchildren who travelled to Singapore in 2005 as part of the closing presentations for London's bid.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge described the lighting as "the final countdown to a dream" which started when London was awarded the Games in 2005.
This special day has been a long time coming for Lord Coe and London 2012 deputy chair Sir Keith Mills. They are veterans from the early days of when the bid to stage the Games was being formed.
After the lighting, Lord Coe, a two-time Olympic champion, said: "For us this is now the best part of a decade.
"We were sitting in a glass box with half a dozen people in Canary Wharf and to be honest this is a day we never really dared to dream about.
"This is an extraordinary journey.
"For me, personally having competed in two Games and having come back here (Olympia) only for the second time, this does complete the circle for me.
"Some of our torch team were in tears, which I like because it shows they were personally connected to this.
"This is a project like no other. You are judged to standards that no other project has ever been judged to. I am so proud of our teams for having stuck to it and committing their lives to this project."
Sir Keith admitted that he cried.
He said the ceremony was "beautiful because it was so simple".
It felt solemn and respectful, he said. "Standing in a place like this where the Olympics was born, you can understand how special it all is."
He said it was "inspiring" which is exactly what London 2012 hope to do with its torch relay and particularly for the younger generation.
The ceremony also included the playing of the Olympic Anthem and the hoisting of the Olympic Flag.
God Save The Queen was also played as the Union Flag was raised.
An abstract of the poem The Light of Olympia was also recited and a white dove of peace was released.
Sir Keith said it was emotional because the last time he was in Olympia was during the bid to try to woo some IOC members to vote for London and to watch some shot putt.
He said: "Lighting the torch and seeing it on its journey to London brought tears to our eyes. I did cry.
"Deborah Hale, who is organising our torch, completely lost it so I propped her up and - shed my own tears at the same time."
Having heard that Sir Keith cried, Olympic minister Hugh Robertson said: "Having been a soldier I would say, it was a special moment."
His involvement in London's £9.3 billion Olympic project started in September 2004 when he became the opposition spokesman.
He said: "Moments like this make you realise it is very close indeed and it is the start of what is going to be a fantastic opportunity for the country."
London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton said: "It is extraordinary to be part of tradition after having spent six years preparing for this. To now be here and be part of history is extraordinary."
Andy Hunt, of the British Olympic Association, said: "That was pretty magical and it is something that most of us will never see in our lifetimes. That was pretty amazing actually."
The flame will visit Crete, Piraeus, Thessalonica, Xanthi and Larissa, among other places, in a relay around the Greek mainland and islands.
The torchbearers are taking it from Ancient Olympia to the Panathenic Stadium in Athens, which was used for the 1896 Games, for the handover to London on May 17.
It is then flown to the UK, landing at RNAS Culdrose, near Helston, Cornwall, on May 18 for a 70-day relay around Britain.
Starting at Land's End, this will see 8,000 torchbearers carrying it from May 19 to the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in east London on July 27.