Ancient Olympia set for Olympic flame lighting ceremony, torch relay start (photos)

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ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — Fire spurted from a concave mirror Wednesday as a priestess, kneeling in her long, pleated dress before a ruined Greek temple, focused the blazing sun’s rays on her metal torch.

Come rain or shine on Thursday’s official lighting ceremony, Rio de Janeiro has now secured its Olympic flame, which will burn in the Brazilian host city throughout the Aug. 5-21 Games.

About 2,500 people attended Wednesday’s dress rehearsal for the meticulously-choreographed ceremony in Ancient Olympia, southern Greece, where the Olympics of antiquity were held for more than 1,000 years.

The flame lit before the Temple of Hera will be kept as a backup, in case cloudy skies derail Thursday’s ceremony, which will be attended by top International Olympic Committee officials and Rio organizers.

The buildup to the Olympics has been clouded by a series of non-games linked setbacks in Brazil, which is facing a major political corruption crisis, a sharp economic recession and the Zika virus outbreak.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing an impeachment process, canceled a scheduled appearance at Thursday’s ceremony.

But IOC officials and Rio organizers maintain that preparations remain on track and the games will be a success.

The modern revival of the ancient games, which were the most important of their kind in antiquity and lasted from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., started in Athens in 1896. But the flame-lighting ceremony, a key part of the pageantry, dates to one of the more awkward moments of the modern games, the 1936 Berlin Olympics conducted by Nazi Germany.

Wednesday’s ceremony started with three beats of a drum held by an actress playing the part of an ancient priestess. Greek actress Katerina Lehou, in the role of a high priestess, lit the torch after offering a mock prayer to Apollo, the old Greek god of light and music, and the ceremony continued in the ancient stadium — which was used at the 2004 Athens Games as the shot put venue.

On Thursday, Lehou will deliver the flame to Greek world gymnastics champion Eleftherios Petrounias, the first runner in a torch relay that will culminate at the opening ceremony in Rio’s Maracana Stadium on Aug. 5.

Over the next six days, hundreds of runners — including a Syrian refugee who has claimed asylum in Greece — will carry the torch for 1,388 miles (2,234 kms) through Greece. Stops will include a refugee camp in Athens and the ancient Acropolis, and it will be handed over to Brazilian officials in the venue for the 1896 Games, a rebuilt ancient marble stadium.

The flame will be handed over to Rio officials on April 27. Carried in a lantern, the flame will then travel to Switzerland for ceremonies at the United Nations office in Geneva and Olympic Museum in Lausanne on April 29.

The flame will then be flow to the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, where the relay across the country kicks off on May 3. The Brazilian relay will include 12,000 torchbearers and visit 329 cities and towns, reaching 90 percent of Brazil’s 200 million people.

MORE: Google Doodle celebrates 120th anniversary of modern Olympics

Images via AP and Getty:

Spectators watch the dress rehearsal for the lighting of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics flame, in Ancient Olympia, southern Greece, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. The meticulously choreographed ceremony will be repeated Thursday in the ruined birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, in the presence of top International Olympic Committee and Rio organizing officials. That will touch off a relay that will conclude with the Rio Games opening ceremony in August. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A priestess releases a white dove during the dress rehearsal for the lighting of the Rio Rio de Janeiro Olympics flame, in Ancient Olympia, southern Greece, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. The meticulously choreographed ceremony will be repeated on Thursday in the ruined birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, in the presence of top International Olympic Committee and Rio organizing officials. That will touch off a relay that will conclude with the Rio Games opening ceremony in August. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

OLYMPIA, GREECE - APRIL 20: High pristesses perform at the Ancient Stadium during the Rehearsal for the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame at Ancient Olympia on April 20, 2016 in Olympia, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, GREECE - APRIL 20: High pristesses perform at the Ancient Stadium during the Rehearsal for the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame at Ancient Olympia on April 20, 2016 in Olympia, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, GREECE - APRIL 20: Actress Katerina Lechou (C) acting the high pristess holds the Archaic Pot at the Ancient Stadium during the Rehearsal for the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame at Ancient Olympia on April 20, 2016 in Olympia, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, GREECE - APRIL 20: Actress Katerina Lechou acting the high pristess holds the Archaic Pot at the Ancient Stadium during the Rehearsal for the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame at Ancient Olympia on April 20, 2016 in Olympia, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, GREECE - 20 APRIL:Katerina Lehou, who plays the role of high priestess lights the olympic torch at the Ancient Olympia site during a rehearsal for the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame for the Rio 2o16 Olympic Games Olympic Games on April 2o in Olympia, Greece. The torch was lit using the rays of the sun in the ancient sanctuary where the Olympic Games were started in 776 BC, near the temple of Hera. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images) *** Local Caption***

OLYMPIA, GREECE - APRIL 20: Actress Katerina Lechou (R) acting the high pristess passes the flame from the Olympic Torch at the Ancient Stadium during the Rehearsal for the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame at Ancient Olympia on April 20, 2016 in Olympia, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, GREECE - APRIL 20: The Olympic flame is lit at the Ancient Stadium during the Rehearsal for the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame at Ancient Olympia on April 20, 2016 in Olympia, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

A lit torch of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic games during a dress rehearsal for the lighting of the Rio Olympics flame, in Ancient Olympia, southern Greece, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. The meticulously choreographed ceremony will be repeated Thursday in the ruined birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, in the presence of top International Olympic Committee and Rio organizing officials. That will touch off a relay that will conclude with the Rio Games opening ceremony in August. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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