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Clouds won't cast a shadow over torch-lighting
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A backup plan was successfully rehearsed yesterday to ensure that bad weather does not dampen the torch-lighting ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Games, today.

Maria Nafpliotou, the High Priestess of the Flame-lighting Ceremony in Ancient Olympia lights the Olympic flame at a rehearsal before the Lighting Ceremony for the Beijing Olympic Games in ancient Olympia, Greece, March 22, 2008. The ceremony will be officially held at 11 o' clock AM on Monday local time.

The flame for the torch was obtained from a previous rehearsal for Sunday's practice, the last of the ceremony, instead of starting the flame with the sun's rays through a concave steel mirror.

The "Highest Priestess" of the ceremony, played by Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, lit the Olympic torch with a flame from an ancient Greek pot. The flame had been lit by sun rays during a rehearsal on March 20 in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera.

According to common practice, if the priestess failed to obtain the flame because of bad weather, the flame lit from previous rehearsals will be used.

Zhang Ming, director of the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay Center, said the rehearsal was to try out lighting the torch in cloudy conditions, which have occurred recently in Olympia and worried local organizers.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee has also announced a change in the opening of the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame for the Beijing Games - it will be held at 11 am instead of noon, local time, which is 5 PM Beijing time today.

The ceremony will be moved into a museum near the site of the ruins if it rains, Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said.

Bad weather affected the torch-lighting ceremony for the Sydney 2000 Summer Games, and the two Winter Olympics - Salt Lake City in 2002, and Nagano in 1998.

At the last rehearsal yesterday, which was held at noon, 22 priestesses came in front of the ruins of the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera, with the Highest Priestess praying to Apollo before lighting the flame.

The priestesses, led by a small boy with an olive branch, went into the ancient Olympia stadium and performed dances in ancient Greek style.

The Highest Priestess then received the olive branch from the boy and passed the flame and branch to the first torchbearer, Alexandros Nikolaidis, the Greek Olympic Taekwondo silver medallist who will also start the torch relay.

The relay will officially start today after the lighting ceremony. As introduced by organizers, the Olympic Flame will be carried 1.528 km by 605 torchbearers in Greece. Several Chinese torchbearers will also bear the flame in Greece, with Olympic swimming gold medalist Luo Xuejuan being the first one by taking the flame from Nikolaidis.

(China Daily March 24, 2008)

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