Russian torchbearer Ovechkin leaves the monument of Pierre de Coubertin during the Greek part of the 2014 Sochi torch relay at ancient Olympia

Olympic flame lit, Ovechkin first Russian torchbearer

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The Olympic flame was lit today in Olympia, Greece, a significant milestone ahead of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

During an elaborate ceremony at the Temple of Hera, Greek actress Ino Menegaki, dressed as a high priestess in a flowing white robe, kindled the flame using sun rays reflected off a parabolic mirror. The first torch was then carried by Greek alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou, an 18-year-old who is attempting to qualify for Sochi.

Antoniou handed the torch off to Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, who became the first Russian torchbearer. Ovechkin, a veteran of two Olympics and a three-time NHL MVP, skipped the Capitals’ final preseason game Saturday night in order to be in Greece. He will rejoin his team in time for the season opener Tuesday night in Chicago.

The torch will be carried through Greece until October 6, when it is flown to Moscow to begin its 123-day odyssey to Sochi.

The Torch Relay is to be the longest in Games history, covering more than 40,000 miles and including 14,000 torchbearers. It will span 83 different regions in Russia, but two highlights will come when it leaves the country: in October, the torch will voyage to the North Pole on a nuclear-powered icebreaker called “50 Years of Victory,” and in November, it will be escorted to the International Space Station by two Russian cosmonauts.

“Just as in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games cannot settle political problems or secure lasting peace between peoples,” said Thomas Bach, the newly elected International Olympic Committee President. “The Olympic flame thus reminds us to be aware of our own Olympic limits.”

The Opening Ceremony is February 7.

Ashton Eaton named male IAAF Athlete of the Year

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American decathlete Ashton Eaton was named the 2015 male Athlete of the Year by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body for track and field. Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba, the reigning world champion in the 1500m, was named the female IAAF Athlete of the Year.

Eaton is the first decathlete and just the eighth American man to win the title. Tyson Gay in 2007 was the last American man to be named.

The honor came due to Eaton’s world-record-setting performance at the world championships held in Beijing this past August. There he beat the previous record, his own from the 2012 Olympic Trials, by nine points. He also set a world record for running the fastest 400m portion of the decathlon in 45.00 seconds.

In the IAAF press release, Eaton said, “Athletes spend the most vigorous years of human life, arguably called the ‘best years’, working to hone their abilities. So, when an athlete competes, what people are witnessing is the manifestation of what a human being is capable of when they choose to direct all of their time and effort towards something.

“I’m grateful and thankful to the IAAF for excellent competitions, the canvases that allow us to display our work.”

He also acknowledged sprinter Usain Bolt and triple jumper Christian Taylor, who were also up for the title: “While I’m honored that I am considered the ‘artist’ of the year, I did not beat Usain and Christian; my work simply differed in design. They are some of the most talented and beautiful performers of all time. I’m flattered to be among them.”

Dibaba has been unbeaten in the 1500m over five races in 2015. Along with winning gold and setting a world record in the 1500 at the Beijing World Championships, Diababa won a bronze medal in the 5000m event.

She gratefully accepted the award, saying, “After being a finalist and narrowly missing out on this award one year ago, I am very proud to be recognized by the fans and experts of our sport.

“I had a great season and truly enjoyed competing around the world, from Monaco where I managed to establish a world record, to Beijing where I finally captured my first world outdoor title.”

Dibaba was recently featured in a family-themed promotional video for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

MORE: Seb Coe splits from Nike as IAAF president


Olympians celebrate Thanksgiving

Meryl Davis
Team USA/ Twitter
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Nov. 26 – or Thanksgiving to the rest of us – is oftentimes a typical training day for many Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. Here’s a look at how some of them spent the day training, competing, celebrating, and being thankful.

Workout football and food😁👍!!! Happy thanksgiving everyone!!!

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on

Happy Thanksgiving from our cold cuts Turkey to yours! #family #happyhappyheart

A photo posted by @cammileadams on

Happy Thanksgiving from the SwimMAC Parade crew!

A photo posted by Tyler Clary (@tylerclary) on


MORE: NBC’s Thanksgiving Rio promo