Olympic flame lit in Olympia to start PyeongChang torch relay (video, photos)

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ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — The flame for the PyeongChang Olympics was lit at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics on Tuesday, despite a brief cloudburst that disrupted the sun-reliant ceremony.

It launched a long torch relay that will culminate with the Winter Games Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

Using fire kept from a rehearsal, an actress playing an ancient pagan priestess ignited the torch in front of the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera in the southern Greek Peloponnese region.

The full ceremony can be rewatched here.

She then passed the flame to the first relay runner, Greek skier Apostolos Angelis, who ran with it for a short distance before handing over to former Manchester United soccer player Park Ji-sung, a South Korean.

From the verdant, rain-soaked valley of Ancient Olympia, where the Games of antiquity were held for more than a thousand years, the flame will course through Greece for eight days and reach South Korea on Nov. 1.

Despite tensions between the U.S. and North Korea — with which the south remains technically at war — organizers insist there is no fear for the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games.

“We want the international community to understand that we are committed to hosting a safe and secure” Games, organizing committee chief Lee Hee-beom said during Tuesday’s lighting ceremony.

The ski resort town of PyeongChang lies about 50 miles south of the world’s most heavily armed border that divides the two Koreas.

The International Olympic Committee has also stressed that there is no cause for concern. IOC president Thomas Bach made no direct reference to the tensions Tuesday, only saying during his speech that the Games “stand above and beyond all the differences that divide us.”

Normally, the flame-lighting ceremony involves the priestess offering a token prayer to the dead pagan gods of Olympia — a major ancient Greek sanctuary — before using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the heat of the sun’s rays on her torch.

But with rain forcing officials to huddle under umbrellas, there was no hope.

“Sorry for the rain,” Greek Olympic Committee chief Spyros Capralos joked.

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MORE: PyeongChang Olympic cauldron unveiled

Greek Presidential guards march through the site at Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece ahead of the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Priestesses perform during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Participants perform during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
IOC President Thomas Bach speaks during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Actress Katerina Lehou, right, as high priestess, lights the torch during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Actress Katerina Lehou as high priestess, center, holds up the Olympic torch during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Actress Katerina Lehou as high priestess, right, lights the torch of bearer Greek cross-country skier Apostolos Angelis during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Torch bearer Greek cross-country skier Apostolos Angelis, left, passes the flame to the South Korean former soccer player Park Ji-Sung during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The flame will be transported by torch relay to PyeongChang, South Korea, which will host the Feb. 9-25, 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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Kaetlyn Osmond leads Grand Prix France as co-favorite falls (video)

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Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond topped the Grand Prix France short program, moving closer to another Grand Prix Final berth on Friday.

The world silver medalist was flawed — performing a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple and putting a hand down on another jump landing.

She goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 1.26-point lead over Russian Maria Sotskova. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa is third, while the lone American Polina Edmunds is ninth.

Co-favorite Alina Zagitova of Russia fell and dropped to fifth place in Grenoble.

In the short dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron improved on their personal best with 81.40 points, the third-highest all-time in an eight-year-old system.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres by 4.66 going into Saturday’s pairs free skate.

The event continues later Friday with the men’s short, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Osmond, 21, was a revelation last season, winning her first Grand Prix medals in four years, making her first Grand Prix Final and finishing second to dominant Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva at worlds.

She’s continued that this fall, winning her first two events in Canada to solidify Olympic medal favorite status. One Canadian woman has won an individual Olympic medal in the last 25 years — Joannie Rochette‘s emotional bronze in 2010.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, fell on her opening triple Lutz. Zagitova won her Grand Prix debut in China two weeks ago and ranks second to training partner Medvedeva in top scores this season.

Medvedeva, Zagitova and Sotskova are the favorites to claim Russia’s three Olympic women’s spots. Sotskova, 17, made the podium in all three of her Grand Prix starts but was a disappointing eighth at last season’s worlds.

Edmunds tallied 56.31 points Friday, stepping out of the landing of her opening triple-triple jump combination.

Still, she improved on her short program from her earlier event this season, where she scored 49.62 with errors on all of her jumps.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympic competitor across all sports in Sochi, went 20 months between competitions, missing the entire 2016-17 season due to a bone bruise in her right foot.

She is an underdog to make the three-woman U.S. team for PyeongChang that will be named after nationals in January.

Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva continued her string of underwhelming programs since her 2015 World title. She fell on a triple Axel attempt and singled a Lutz, plummeting to last place of 11 skaters.

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Internationaux de France
Women’s Short Program
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 69.05
2. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 67.79
3. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 66.05
9. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 56.31

Short Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 81.40
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 73.55
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 70.02
6. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 60.64

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 77.84
2. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 73.18
3. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 70.65
6. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 58.99