The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch was lit in ancient Olympia on Sunday (September 29), heralding the start of what will be the longest torch relay for any Winter Games, including a trip to space.
The Black Sea resort of Sochi, the first Russian city to stage a Winter Olympics, will receive the flame on Oct. 5 after a short relay in Greece, to kick off a 123-day odyssey culminating at the opening ceremony on Feb. 7.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is eager to deliver a "brilliant" Games to showcase how far Russia has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
New International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach addressed the guests on his first official assignment since succeeeding Jacques Rogge.
"A combination of very fortunate circumstances and Greece has made it possible for me to choose ancient Olympia as the destination for my first official trip as president of the IOC," the German said.
"The Olympic torch relay will be a messenger for the Olympic values of excellent friendship and respect without any form of discrimination.
"Just as in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games cannot directly settle politcal problems or secure lasting peace between peoples. The Olympic flame thus reminds us to be aware of our own Olympic limits but it reminds us also to use the strength of our values and symbols for the positive development of global human society," Bach added.
Russia has been under mounting criticism over a new anti-gay propaganda law seen by critics as repressive while security in the city near the volatile North Caucasus region is also a concern.
On a hot autumn day, actress Ino Menegaki, playing the high priestess, lit the torch in seconds as the sun's rays bounced off a concave mirror at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics, a ritual first established for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
After leaving Greece, the flame will travel to outer space, the bottom of Lake Baikal, the North Pole and Europe's highest peak in the mammoth run across the vast country, carried by a record 14,000 torch-bearers.
Ice hockey player Alexander Ovechkin was the first Russian to run with the torch after Greek Alpine skier Giannis Antoniou kicked off the relay.
It will eventually travel across 83 regions in Russia and 2,900 settlements on its 65,000-kilometre route through and around the world's largest country.