Olympic Flame for Beijing 2022 lit in Ancient Olympia as protesters interrupt the ceremony

Greek skier Iannis Antoniou is the first torchbearer passing the flame to former Chinese short track speed skater Li Jiajun . Small group stages protest during ceremony.

Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess passes the flame to first torchbearer, Greek skier Ioannis Antoniou during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess passes the flame to first torchbearer, Greek skier Ioannis Antoniou during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

It was a gorgeous, sun-splashed day in Ancient Olympia as the Olympic flame was lit, beginning its journey from the cradle of the Olympic Games to Beijing with the 2022 Olympic Winter Games opening in 109 days.

Greek Alpine skier Iannis Antoniou received the flame from the Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou playing the role of high priestess, proceeding to run with the torch in one hand and an olive branch in the other to the Coubertin Grove, to honor the IOC founder, as is customary.

Antoniou – who also served as the first torchbearer at the Flame Lighting ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Games and competed for Greece at PyeongChang 2018 – passed the flame to the torch held by Chinese Olympic short track speed skater and five-time Olympic medalist Li Jiajun. The third torchbearer was Greek Paralympic skier Vassilis Papavasiliou.

“It is one of the greatest honors for an athlete to be the first torchbearer for the Olympics, especially while I’m trying to qualify and participate in those Games,” Antoniou told media, during the rehearsal.

Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 First torchbearer, Greek skier Ioannis Antoniou runs with the Olympic flame and an olive branch past The Presidential Guard during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 First torchbearer, Greek skier Ioannis Antoniou runs with the Olympic flame and an olive branch past The Presidential Guard during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Shortly prior to the transfer of the flame to Antoniou, Georgiou had no issues lighting the flame as the sun’s bright rays bounced off a parabolic mirror as is the traditional procedure, all occurring at the Temple of Hera in just a matter of seconds.

Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess, lights the flame during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Pool via REUTERS/Thanassis Stavrakis
Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess, lights the flame during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Pool via REUTERS/Thanassis Stavrakis

After the torch was lit, three human rights protesters, one holding a Tibetan flag, shouted for a boycott of the Beijing Games before being detained by police.

With the Games sparking controversy with criticisms of China’s Human Rights record and suppression of democracy. IOC President Thomas Bach called for political neutrality and solidarity when he addressed his colleagues from the IOC Executive Board, Greek dignitaries including president of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Ancient Olympia mayor George Georgiopoulos and Hellenic Olympic Committe president Spyros Capralos, as well as Beijing 2022 represented by IOC vice president Yu Zaiqing.

“The foundation for the ancient Olympic Games to take place in peace was a sacred truce – the ekecheiria,” Bach said.

“The ekecheiria demonstrates that already the ancient Greeks understood that for the Olympic Games to unfold their unifying power, they must stand above any political conflict.

“In this way, already 3,000 years ago, there was an inseparable link between the Olympic Games and peace.

“This peace mission, handed down to us since ancient times, requires that the Olympic Games be respected as politically neutral ground.

“Only this political neutrality ensures that the Olympic Games can stand above and beyond the political differences that existed in ancient times, as well as today.”

Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach speaks during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach speaks during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Zaiqing also addressed those in attendance in Ancient Olympia.

“Under the robust leadership of the Chinese government, with the support of the people around the world, and through close cooperation with the International Olympic Committee and other stakeholders, we can and will deliver a streamlined, safe and splendid Olympic Games for the world,” Zaiqing said.

Besides the disturbance at the flame lighting on Monday, Greek police on Sunday detained two human rights activists as they unveiled banners at the Athens Acropolis in protest of the upcoming Olympic Games in China.

Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 A protester holds a Tibetan flag during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Costas Baltas     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Winter Olympics - Lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - Ancient Olympia, Olympia, Greece - October 18, 2021 A protester holds a Tibetan flag during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics REUTERS/Costas Baltas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The young duo staged a brief protest on Sunday morning just before a dress rehearsal for the Flame Lighting ceremony, holding up a Tibetan flag and raising banner reading “Free Hong Kong - Revolution” at a scaffolding adjacent to the Acropolis.

Beijing will become the first city to host both the Winter and Summer Games when it hosts the February Games, but, as was the case with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, protests and calls for boycotts over the country’s human rights record have marred the run-up.

Human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers have called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games and relocate the event unless China ends what the United States deems ongoing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups.

Chinese authorities have been accused of facilitating forced labor by detaining around a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in camps since 2016.

After the Flame handover tomorrow in Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, it will be flown to Beijing, where it will go on display in the Chinese capital before setting off on a flame exhibition tour.

The traditional torch relay in Greece has been cancelled because of coronavirus health concerns. The torch will be taken directly to Athens tonight where it will be handed over to the Chinese organizers tomorrow in Panatheniac Stadium. It will be handed over by Capralos to Zaiqing.

The XXIV Olympic Winter Games officially open on Feb. 4 in the Chinese capital.

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