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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Monday, 19 November, 2001, 13:43 GMT
Olympic flame sparks to life
Greek priestesses during a ceremony to light the Olympic flame in Olympia
Overcast skies hampered the lighting of the flame
The Olympic flame's long journey from Mount Olympus in Greece to Salt Lake City, Utah, began on Monday.

A white-robed "priestess" presided over the lighting of the flame at a ruined temple which is believed to be the site where the Games began over 2,700 years ago.

The Olympic torch will now be carried through Greece to Athens, where it will be handed to Salt Lake City officials on 3 December.

The flame will then be flown to Atlanta from where it will carried around the US before arriving in Salt Lake City for the Winter Games' opening ceremony on 8 February.

We hope that the message conveyed by the Olympic flame may find staunch supporters during its long journey
Lambis Nikolaou, Greek Olympic president

The ceremony consisted of high priestess Thalia Prokopiou, followed by her acolytes, carrying a flaming cauldron out of the ruins of the temple as hundreds of tourists looked on.

But overcast skies prevented the traditional method of lighting the torch - via the sun's rays.

Greek Olympic Committee president Lambis Nikolaou hopes the flame can become a symbol of optimism.

"Today, at a time when humanity is shaken by tragic events, we hope that the message conveyed by the Olympic flame may find staunch supporters during its long journey from Ancient Olympia to Salt Lake City."

Those sentiments were echoed by Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake City organising committee, who paid tribute to the origins of the Games.

The flame for the Winter Olympics is lit during a ceremony in Olympia
The torch is lit in Olympia

"Our city and yours are almost half a planet apart. As we now stand together in your land, we celebrate our common heritage," he said.

"May our symbolic return to this place turn our hearts to the vision of our earliest mothers and fathers."

The glass and metal torch will then be flown to Atlanta to begin its US journey on 4 December.

A 19-car Olympic Torch Relay train will carry the flame more than 3,200 miles, across 46 states on its 65-day course.

The only states the Olympic torch will not visit are Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii.

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