ATHENS, GREECE — The Olympic torch has been lit in southern Greece, kicking off the countdown to Rio 2016.
In a solemn and elaborate ceremony worthy of a “Game of Thrones” pageant, women in ancient-Greek style dresses and men in tunics performed symbolic rituals at the site of Ancient Olympia.
The Games were first held there in 776 BC and remained there for 12 centuries.
Acting the role of the high priestess, Greek actress Katerina Lechou lit the torch using a concave mirror to focus the sun’s rays, before placing it into a ceramic bowl. An olive branch was cut and a white dove released into the blue spring sky, both symbolizing peace.
The flaming torch, which has its own Twitter account, was handed to its first torchbearer, gold medal-winning Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias, before beginning its six-day relay across the country.
Another of the runners will be a Syrian refugee, who will carry the torch through the Eleonas refugee camp in central Athens — part of a conscious effort by the International Olympics Committee to highlight the plight of refugees around the world.
For the first time in history, a team of five-12 refugee athletes from multiple countries will be competing in this year’s Games. They will march behind the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony in Rio.