ATHENS – On Saturday Alexander Ovechkin quickly left North America to travel to Greece as the Washington Capitals allowed him to leave for the lighting of the Olympic flame last Sunday.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the NHL star, who was the first Russian to carry the torch.
The ceremony took place in southern Greece at the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia. The torch was lit by Greek actress Ino Menegaki playing a high priestess in a white robe, traditionally with the help of the sun’s rays through a large parabolic mirror. Apollo, God of the Sun in Greek mythology, seemed to be in good mood on Sunday at the sacred place.
18-year-old Greek alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou was the first athlete to get the torch before it went to a sportsman of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games’ host country.
Ovechkin has always been a proud ambassador for Sochi 2014, so the organizers called him the natural choice when looking for a famous Russian winter sports athlete.
For Ovechkin it was a feeling hard to describe. “So sick! Best moment of my life!” Ovechkin tweeted after his ten-minute run. Then he gave it to Elizaveta Nikonova, one of the ten children from Yakutsk who ran with the torch as a team.
After some days of relay through Greece the torch will reach Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, on Saturday where it will be given to the Russian organizers before travelling to Russia and arriving on Moscow’s Red Square on Monday.
The torch will then travel through all nine time zones of Russia, roughly 65,000 kilometres in 123 days, 2,900 communities and Russia’s 83 regions including their capital cities by foot, car, train, plane, a troika, reindeer and dog sleighs, snow mobiles and even a balloon.
The torch will have a spectacular route and is set to go to the North Pole on an icebreaker, Russia’s highest mountain Elbrus in the Caucasus, the sand dunes of the Curonian Spit and the old island settlement of Kizhi – both UNESCO World Heritage sites – and to the bottom of Lake Baikal before being used for the opening ceremony on 7th February. An unlit torch will even be taken to space by Russian cosmonauts in the biggest torch relay ever.
14,000 Russians will follow Ovechkin in carrying the torch. The names are a secret but it is speculated that Ovechkin’s mother Tatyana, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in basketball, could be among them. She won her second medal in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the only time Olympic Games have been held in Russia prior to Sochi 2014.
In the meantime, two-time World Champion Ovechkin returned to the Washington Capitals. He scored the Caps’ first goal of the season and had an assist in the season opener on Tuesday night, a 6-4 loss at defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.