Greek actress Katerina Lehou (1st R) in the role of an Ancient Greek High Priestess passes the Sacred Olympic Flame to Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos at Panathenaic stadium in Athens on Oct. 31, 2017, during the handover ceremony of the Olympic flame for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.(Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
The flame burning for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics began its journey from Greece to South Korea on Tuesday after a touching handover ceremony held at the Panathenaic stadium in the center of Athens.
At the marble venue of the first modern Olympics in 1896, Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos passed the Sacred Flame to the President of the PyeongChang Games Organizing Committee Lee Hee-beom.
The South Korean delegation departed under the applause of thousands of Greek schoolchildren who attended the event along dignitaries braving the low temperatures.
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos and international Olympic movement representatives were among the crowd that sent off the Flame with warm wishes for success at the February 9-25 Games.
"We are handing over, today, the Olympic Flame, so that you carry it to your distant but most beautiful country and so that it keeps sending the messages of peace, friendship and fraternity throughout its journey," Capralos said before handing the torch to Lee Hee- beom.
"We are honored that the PyeongChang Winter Games represents the second time the Olympic Flame will be in Korea, since the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games," the President of the Organizing Committee "PyeongChang 2018" said addressing the event.
"The slogan of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Torch Relay, 'Let Everyone Shine', means the Olympic flame will shine for each and everyone's dream, passions and future anytime and anywhere...The PyeongChang 2018 will be an Olympics of peace and harmony," he stressed.
The friendship connecting people across borders was underlined during performances of dance and music shows by Greek children and South Korean artists who opened Tuesday's event.
Local youth choirs sang the national anthems of Greece and South Korea as well as the Olympic anthem as the Greek, and South Korean and Olympic flags were hoisted.
Spectators cheered when Kim Ki-hoon, veteran South Korean Olympic champion in short track speed skating, entered the stadium and passed the Flame to the last Torchbearer, Greek champion in alpine skiing Yannis Proios, who lit the cauldron. Proios has qualified for the February Games.
Choreography inspired by ancient Greek art performed by Greek actresses and dancers playing the roles of ancient Greek priestesses and youth (Korai and Kouroi) followed.
After dancers released twelve pigeons as symbols of peace, Greek actress Katerina Lehou in her last performance as High Priestess lit the last torch from the cauldron and handed it to Capralos who passed it to the South Korean organizers of the Games.
The event at Panathenaic stadium marked the end of the first leg of the Torch Relay on Greek soil, which had started on October 24 at ancient Olympia when the Sacred Light was ignited by the sun's rays during a ritual ceremony at the birthplace of the Olympics.
The second leg of the Relay across South Korea will cover 2,018 kilometers before reaching the main venue for the opening ceremony of the Games after 100 days.
A total of 2,900 athletes from 95 countries and regions will participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, according to the organizers.