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)

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)