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.

Marc Leishman will miss Olympics due to wife’s health, Zika

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Australian golfer Marc Leishman will miss the Rio Olympics due to his wife’s health.

“Many of you may know that last April my children and I almost lost my wife, Audrey, to toxic shock syndrome,” Leishman said in a statement. “Since then Audrey has been prone to infection and is far removed from 100 percent recovery of her immune system.

“We have consulted with Audrey’s physician and due to her ongoing recovery from toxic shock and potential risks associated with the transmission of the Zika virus, it was a difficult yet easy decision not to participate.

“I missed playing in the 2015 Masters tournament to be at her side when she was originally stricken and I cannot risk placing her health in jeopardy.

“The Masters and the Olympics are the two biggest tournaments to which a golfer can be invited; however, my family will always come before golf.”

Leishman, 32 with one PGA Tour win, joined the projected Olympic field when countryman Adam Scott said last month that he would skip Rio.

World No. 1 Jason Day is assured one of two Olympic spots for Australian men when the 60-man field is determined based on July 11 world rankings.

With No. 7 Scott and No. 35 Leishman out, the next-best Aussie is No. 63 Marcus Fraser.

Three more major champions — Vijay Singh, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel — also said in April they would not compete in Rio.

Golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

MORE: Australia Olympic legend blasts Adam Scott

Rory McIlroy worried Olympic golf may be done after 2020

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Rory McIlroy believes golf may not remain in the Olympics after 2020 following a string of major champions announcing they will skip the sport’s return at the Rio Games.

“Because of how [Olympic golf is] being approached in golf circles … I’m not sure if we’re going to have another opportunity to win a gold medal after [Tokyo 2020],” McIlroy said ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.

In 2009, the International Olympic Committee voted to re-add golf and rugby to the Olympic program for the 2016 Olympics, with a review in 2017 if they would remain for the 2020 Olympics.

In 2013, Tokyo was elected host city for the 2020 Olympics with a plan that includes golf.

Beyond 2020, golf does not yet have a place in the Olympics. Its chances for the 2024 Olympics could come into focus when that host city is chosen in September 2017.

McIlroy, ranked No. 3 in the world, has repeated he will play for Ireland in the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904 in Rio in August.

Fellow major champions Adam ScottLouis OosthuizenCharl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh said last month they will not play in the Rio Olympics.

MORE: Golf Channel’s Olympic broadcast schedule