Copyright 2004 www.tombraiderchronicles.com

[ June 1st 2004 ]

The Olympic flame embarked on the first leg of the international torch relay Wednesday as it headed to Sydney aboard a customized aircraft dubbed Zeus. The flame arrived at the airport in its own "magic lantern" that will house it while airborne on its 27-country tour over the next 38 days. "With the Olympic flame we are sending the message of Greece to the whole globe," said Athens chief games organizer Gianna Angelopoulos, speaking at the airport. Flag-waving traditional dancers, marching bands and massed diplomats gave the first taste of the pageant that will greet the relay on its two-month odyssey.

More than 200 people in two chartered jets will accompany the $45 million relay that will take the flame for the first time to all five continents, including debut legs in Africa and Latin America. Previous torch processions at Sydney and Atlanta were largely domestic affairs with a brief international leg. When it arrives in Sydney the flame in the lantern will be used to light the torch that will then be passed to thousands of runners, before returning to Greece.

Sydney 400 meters champion Cathy Freeman will be the first torchbearer in Sydney, the last city to host the summer games. Celebrities from U.S. actress Angelina Jolie to Japanese pop singer Yukio Hashi and thousands of other runners, selected for "inspirational community work," will be among the 3,600 torchbearers.

Among the highlights will be a mass beach party in Rio, which organizers expect promise will rival the famous annual carnival for spectacle. While in Brazil, soccer internationals Ronaldo, Pele and Zico will be joined by local samba schools on the Rio beaches. Future hosts Beijing are expected to showcase their preparations for 2008 with a procession that winds up at the summer palace. The flame returns to Greece on July 9 for a final homecoming tour before entering the Olympic stadium to light the cauldron when the Games open on August 13.

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