Anicent Olympia ( Greece), March 24: The Beijing Olympics flame was lit in a ceremony here at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics.
The torch relay began with Greek taekwondo athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis, who received the sacred flame from an actress representing an ancient Greek high priestess in the ancient stadium of Olympia. A number of Chinese athletes are scheduled to run the early relay leg out of Olympia, including Chinese swimmer Luo Xuejuan, a gold medallist in the 2004 Olympics, who will be the second relay runner. Kosuke Kitajima, Japan's double Olympic breaststroke champion and former world record holder, said he will feel delighted to take part in the torch relay although he has working hard currently in the United States to retain his titles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I never expect to become a torch bearer for the upcoming Olympics, but it is meaningful to inform the arrival of the Olympic flame to the people of the world and increase the awareness for the Olympic movement. I feel so excited to get involved in the torch relay," said Kitajima, who is expected to run in Nagano of Japan segment.
"Now I am competing on a plateau of the USA, and training for 10,00 meters per day," added Kitajima. "I am in 100 percent good form and I can train like eating my breakfast."
At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Kitajima won the 100 and 200 meters golds. In April, he will come back to Japan for the national championships which also serve as qualifiers for the Olympics.
Luo Xuejuan, formerly dubbed the "Queen in the Pool" before her retirement from swimming last year, felt extremely proud of being the first Chinese to bear the flame of Beijing Olympic Games.
"I'm so honored, and feel so challenged also," said Luo, who won the only swimming title for China in Athens four years ago at the women's 100 meters breaststroke event.
"As the first Chinese torchbearer, I deeply know that I'm not bearing it by myself but with all my countrymen," Luo added.
The 24-year-old former Olympian took over the torch from Greek Olympic taekwondo silver medallist Alexandros Nikolaidis, the first torchbearer, after his torch was lit by High Priestess Maria Nafpliotou at the Ancient Olympia archaeological site.
Table tennis legend Deng Yaping, who has run twice in previous Olympics, will also run the torch relay in Greece on behalf of China.
The Beijing Olympic torch relay is the longest and most ambitious ever planned, lasting 130 days and covering 137,000 kilometres (85,000 miles).
Despite an unprecedented security operation, the ritual was penetrated by three protesters who tried to disrupt the speech of China's top Olympic organiser Liu Qi.
The Olympics opens on Aug 8.