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)

Annemiek van Vleuten wins La Course with epic comeback (video)

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Annemiek van Vleuten, the cyclist who returned from a horrific Rio Olympic road race crash to become world champion, repeated as La Course winner with an epic last-kilometer comeback on Tuesday.

Van Vleuten sprinted from several seconds behind countrywoman Anna van der Breggen to win the one-day race, including four categorized climbs, contested on part of the Tour de France stage 10 course later that day.

“With 300 meters to go, I still thought I got second, and then I saw her dying,” Van Vleuten said, adding later, according to Cyclingnews.com, “With 500 meters to go my team director in the car gave up and stopped cheering for me.”

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title, while van Vleuten returned quick enough to race at the October 2016 World Championships.

Van Vleuten, 35, won her first world title 13 months after the Rio Games, taking the time trial crown ahead of van der Breggen by 12 seconds. She also won the 10-stage Giro Rosa that concluded on Sunday.

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Greg Van Avermaet triples Tour de France lead in first mountain stage

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Belgian Greg Van Avermaet more than tripled his Tour de France overall lead in the first day in the mountains on Tuesday, but Wednesday may be his last day in the yellow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a stage in this year’s Tour, claiming the 10th stage that included three first-category climbs and a beyond-category climb but ended with a descent and the contenders together in the peloton.

Van Avermaet finished fourth, 1:44 behind Alaphilippe. More importantly, Van Avermaet crossed the Grand-Bornand finish line 1:39 ahead of a group that included most of the main contenders to top the podium in Paris on July 29.

The Olympic road race champion increased his overall lead from 43 seconds to 2:22.

Van Avermaet has worn the maillot jaune for a week straight, but he is not a climber, and the biggest test of the Tour thus far is imminent.

“No disrespect, but he’s not going to win the Tour,” said Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is in second place.

The Tour continues with stage 11, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Wednesday (full broadcast schedule here). The 67-mile stage starts in the 1992 Winter Olympic host Albertville and includes two beyond-category climbs. It concludes with a category-one summit at La Rosière.

“Tomorrow’s a climber’s day,” Van Avermaet said. “It will be super hard to keep [the yellow jersey]. … Tomorrow it will be over.”

Chris Froome, eyeing a record-tying fifth Tour de France title, is best placed of the pre-Tour favorites.

Froome is in sixth place and 3:21 behind Van Avermaet. Froome is followed by Spaniard Mikel Landa in the same time and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali another six seconds back.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the 2017 Tour runner-up, finished 2:36 behind the group with Froome, Landa and Nibali.

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