"Flame of Hope" for the Special Olympics World Winter Games was ignited in Athens!
On Thursday, 2 March the Flame of Hope for the Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017 was lit during a formal torch lighting ceremony in Athens. In keeping with tradition, this ceremony took place along the lines of the original torch lighting of the Olympics, at the Zappeion Palace in Athens, Greece where the flame was lit by the sun’s rays and carried out by the High Priestess and the Priestesses.
The Flame of Hope will then be transferred to Austria where the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) Final Leg will formally be launched on 9 March, preceding the Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017. This lighting ceremony begins a journey of the Flame of Hope across towns and cities throughout Austria concluding with the Flame of Hope being delivered to the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria on 18 March.
Over 300 dignitaries and 120 Special Olympics athletes were present at the ceremony including H.E. Mr. Prokopios Pavlopoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Dionyssios Kodellas, President of Special Olympics Hellas, Mr. Jurgen Winter, President of Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017 Organizing Committee, Mr. Markus Pichler, Chief Executive Officer of Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017 Organizing Committee, Mr. Giorgios Vassiliadis, Deputy Minister for Sports for Greece, Mr. David Evangelista, President and Managing Director Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Final Leg Team members and Team Special Olympics Hellas.
The ceremony featured remarks by Mr. Winter, Mr. Vassiliadis and Mr. Evangelista and a performance of the Special Olympics anthem by composer Mr. Stefanos Korkolis.
“The Torch Lighting is the kick-off for us for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games. In a few weeks, athletes from 107 nations will come to Austria and attend these Games,” said Mr. Jurgen Winter, President of Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017 Organizing Committee. “We will cordially welcome all athletes, coaches, families and guests and hope they enjoy their time in Austria!”
After the Flame of Hope was lit, Mr. Winter handed the torch to Final Leg Team member and Special Olympics Austria athlete Johannes Grander and Special Olympics Hellas athlete Nikos Toulikas.120 Torch Runners including members of law enforcement, Special Olympics athletes and students from the local public schools of Korydallos, Athens, Psychio College High School, Campion, Doukas, Nea Genia Ziridi, and Sychroni Paideia then carried the Flame of Hope through the streets of Athens to the residence of Austrian Ambassador Andrea Ikic-Böhm, where a ceremony was held. Following the events, the Flame of Hope was entrusted to the Presidential Guard for safekeeping until it begins its journey to Austria.
The Flame of Hope will then begin its trans-continental journey via Aegean Airlines, which will transport the Flame of Hope to Zurich, arriving on the 8th of March., in time for the start of the Final Leg, which will kick-off on 9 March from Bregenz, Austria. The Final Leg Team will embark on two different routes, running the Flame of Hope throughout 45 cities, towns and communities across Austria at various events, honoring the spirit of the Special Olympics global movement and delivering a message of hope to communities where people with intellectual disabilities continue to fight for acceptance and inclusion.
The start of the torch run in Bregenz on the 9th of March (9:30 am) heralds the final countdown of the Special Olympics World Winter Games. From Vorarlberg across Tyrol (10th March), Salzburg (11th March), Upper Austria (12th March ), Lower Austria (13th March), Vienna (14th March), Burgenland / Lower Austria / Styria) and Carinthia (16th March) to Graz, where the torch run will be carried out on the 17th of March in the city center of Graz. On the 18th of March, the day of the Opening Ceremony, the "Flame of Hope" can still be admired in Ramsau and Schladming, before it will be handed over to a Special Olympics athlete, who will light the Olympic Fire in the fire bowl in the evening. At the same time, the flame will also be illuminated on the Castle of Graz, and will be burning there until the end of the Games.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run® Final Leg for the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria, will take place from 9 March – 18 March. A team of 133 members – which includes 88 law enforcement officer runners, 10 Special Olympics athletes, and logistics personnel – will serve as Guardians of the Flame as they run the Flame of Hope throughout Austria. Law Enforcement runners from around the world are selected to represent their Torch Run and Special Olympics Programs in the Final Leg. The Special Olympics athletes were selected to be a part of the Final Leg Team based on nominations received from around the world.