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.

Hope Solo: I wouldn’t go to Olympics if I had to choose today

Hope Solo
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U.S. goalie Hope Solo said she would not go to the Rio Olympics if she had to choose today, citing being uncomfortable with the current situation in Brazil including the Zika virus, according to SI.com.

Pregnant women are at risk from the mosquito-borne, Brazil-based virus, Rio Games organizers medical director Dr. Joao Grangeiro said last week, according to The Associated Press.

It has sometimes been associated with a brain birth defect.

Olympic soccer matches will be held not only in Rio but also several other Brazilian cities that may have more mosquitoes and a greater Zika risk.

“No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma,” Solo, a two-time Olympic champion, said, according to SI.com. “Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don’t.

“We accept these particular choices as part of being a woman, but I do not accept being forced into making the decision between competing for my country and sacrificing the potential health of a child, or staying home and giving up my dreams and goals as an athlete. Competing in the Olympics should be a safe environment for every athlete, male and female alike. Female athletes should not be forced to make a decision that could sacrifice the health of a child.”

Grangeiro said the athletes would not be at risk during the Olympics in August, that there will be fewer mosquitoes in Brazil’s winter (opposite the U.S. summer), according to the AP.

“We will not have an epidemic or pandemic situation,” Grangeiro said, according to the AP. “We can’t say we won’t have any cases [during the Games], but we see this as a minimal risk.”

Solo and the U.S. women’s soccer team begin their Olympic qualifying tournament Wednesday (on NBC Sports Live Extra, full schedule here).

MORE: U.S. women’s soccer named 20-player Olympic qualifying roster

How to watch U.S. Olympic marathon trials

Meb Keflezighi
AP
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The U.S. Olympic marathon trials will air live for the first time, on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra on Saturday from 1-4 p.m. ET.

The top three finishers in each of the men’s and women’s races in Los Angeles will become the first members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field team.

The men’s race (1:06 p.m. ET) includes 2012 Olympic trials winner Meb Keflezighi hoping to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner ever, Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp in his 26.2-mile debut and three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, who was fourth at the 2012 trials in Houston.

The women’s race (1:22 p.m. ET) includes all three 2012 Olympic marathon team members — Shalane FlanaganDesi Linden and Kara Goucher. Plus, Amy Hastings Cragg, who was fourth at trials four years ago.

Tom Hammond hosts coverage, joined by Craig Masback, Tim Hutchings, Lewis Johnson and Carrie Tollefson.

Olympic Marathon Trials Previews: Men | Women