The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch was lit in ancient Olympia on Sunday, heralding the start of what will be the longest torch relay for any Winter Games, including a trip to space.
The Black Sea resort of Sochi, the first Russian city to stage a Winter Olympics, will receive the flame on Oct. 5 after a short relay in Greece, to kick off a 123-day odyssey culminating at the opening ceremony on Feb. 7.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is eager to deliver a "brilliant" Games to showcase how far Russia has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
On a hot autumn day, actress Ino Menegaki, playing the high priestess, lit the torch in seconds as the sun's rays bounced off a concave mirror at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics, a ritual first established for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
After leaving Greece, the flame will travel to outer space, the bottom of Lake Baikal, the North Pole and Europe's highest peak in the mammoth run across the vast country, carried by a record 14,000 torch-bearers.
"Just as in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games cannot settle political problems or secure lasting peace between peoples," said new International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, on his first official assignment since succeeding Jacques Rogge.
"The Olympic flame thus reminds us to be aware of our own Olympic limits." Russia has been under mounting criticism over a new anti-gay propaganda law seen by critics as repressive while security in the city near the volatile North Caucasus region is also a concern.
(Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris in ancient Olympia; Editing by John O'Brien)