Flame collecting ceremony held for Special Olympics

09:40, June 10, 2011      

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Greek special Olympics athlete Iliana Simeonidou in the role of the High Priestess holds the Flame of Hope, Faith and Love for Special Olympics World Games 2011 at the archaeological site of Pnyx under the Acropolis hill in Athen, capital of Greece, June 9, 2011. This year's summer special Olympics World Games will be held in Athen from June 25 to July 4, 2011. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

The Flame of Hope, Faith and Love for this summer's Special Olympics World Games Athens 2011 was lit on Thursday at the archaeological site of Pnyx under the Acropolis hill in a ritual ceremony held in the tradition of the Lighting of the Flame for Olympic Games.

Sixteen days before the opening ceremony of the Games, on 11:43 a.m. local hour at the meeting place of the Athens first democratic assembly 23 centuries ago, Special Olympics athlete Iliana Simeonidou in the role of the High Priestess lit the flame out of a concave mirror using the sun's rays.

The ceremony was conducted in a similar way to the ceremony traditionally held at Olympia in western Greece, where the first Olympic Games were organized 23 centuries ago.

Following a dance performance by Greek Special Olympic athletes and dancers playing the roles of priestesses, the High Priestess lit the torch with the Flame and handed it over to President of the Greek Organizing Committee of the Games Joanna Despotopoulou.

She passed it to the first torchbearers, George Papadopoulos and Georgia Yerakari, kicking off a torch relay that will reach Instanbul, Cyprus and dozens cities across Greece before returning to Athens for the opening ceremony on June 25 at Panathinaikon Stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.

The Athens 2011 World Summer Special Olympics will run to July 4 with the participation of over 7,000 athletes, among them over 130 Chinese, who will compete in 22 sports in 30 venues.

They will be escorted by 2,500 coaches and 40,000 family members and friends, and joined by 3,000 media representatives, many dignitaries and celebrities from around the world. At least 25,000 volunteers will support the Games.

The Flame of Hope is carried by Special Olympics athletes and law enforcement officers from across the world, spreading the message of the Olympic and Special Olympics ideals- peace, friendship, humanity, acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities, special needs and special abilities, as dignitaries noted, addressing the event.

"Light, warmth and hope characterize the sun, as well as the spirit of these Games and the international movement of the Special Olympics which celebrates today a historic moment, as it is rekindled in the country which gave birth to the Olympic ideals," said Despotopoulou, welcoming guests.

On behalf of the reek government, Alternate Minister of Culture and Tourism Tilemachos Chitiris and Deputy Minister of Health and Social Solidarity Christos Aidonis, along City of Athens Mayor George Kaminis stressed that despite the debt crisis which has hit Greece hard, the Games provide an opportunity to send a message to the world that Greece is a reliable partner which can overcome challenges, showcasing the ideals of volunteerism, solidarity and strength of human spirit.

This June's Special Olympics are the most significant athletic event hosted in Greece after the 2004 Olympic Games.

"I am in to the heroic athletes of Special Olympics, to the revolution of dignity," said Special Olympics International Committee President Timothy Shriver, using the official slogan of the 2011 Athens Games "i am in". Wishing best success to the Games, he expressed confidence that Greek people, like the Special Olympic athletes, will win struggles with courage of heroes.

Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, sister of USA President John F Kennedy, was among the founding members of the Special Olympic Games in 1968.

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