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Olympic torch relay begins with lighting ceremony in Greece

Greek actress Katerina Lechou, right, playing the role of high priestess, lights the Olympic flame Thursday at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece.

Greek actress Katerina Lechou, right, playing the role of high priestess, lights the Olympic flame Thursday at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece.

(Yannis Kolesidis / European Pressphoto Agency)

The torch relay for the 2016 Summer Games began Thursday with a ceremonial lighting of the flame in Greece.

With officials gathered at the ruins of ancient Olympia, the president of the International Olympic Committee predicted that Rio de Janeiro “will provide a spectacular stage” for the 17-day sporting event in August.

Thomas Bach also acknowledged that organizers have struggled through political turmoil, a badly stumbling economy, water pollution at open-water venues and an outbreak of the Zika virus.

“In these difficult days that Brazil is facing, the flame is a timeless reminder that we are all a part of the same humanity,” he said.

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Brazilian sports minister Ricardo Leyser told reporters: “It will be a big party, and people will forget the other problems and just focus on the Games.”

An actress portraying a pagan priestess ignited the Olympic flame by using a concave mirror to focus the sun’s rays on her torch.

Eleftherios Petrounias, a world champion gymnast from Greece, served as the first torchbearer, quickly handing off to the retired Brazilian volleyball player Giovane Gavio.

The relay will continue through Greece for six days before shifting to Brazil, where it will begin a 15-week journey ending at the opening ceremony on Aug. 5.

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