By David Gold at the Temple of Hera in Olympia

london 2012_olympic_torch_lighting_10-05-12May 10 - The Olympic Torch has been lit here in ancient Olympia, with British-born Greek 10 kilometre open water swimming world champion Spyros Gianniotis being the first runner on the Torch's 78 day journey, as it passes through Greece before being flown to Britain, the host of this summer's Olympic and Paralympic Games.

With the final test events for London 2012 completed earlier this week, today is a significant landmark for organisers as the final countdown to the Olympics and Paralympics begin.

The ceremony was choreographed by Artemis Ignatiou, and under the supervision of high priestess Ino Menegaki (pictured above, left), a classical Greek actress, the flame was lit directly from the sun's rays in a parabolic bowl.

The event took place here at the ancient stadium in Olympia, where the first ancient Olympic Games - dedicated to the Olympian gods - can be traced back to 776 BC.

The recital of The Light of Olympia preceded the lighting of the Torch, following which Gianniotis (pictured above, right) ran the first leg of the Torch's journey, stopping to pay his respects at the memorial of the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

Spyros Gianniotis_10-05-12
He then handed it over to keen boxer Alexander Loukos (pictured below, right), a 19-year-old Briton of Greek descent – and also one of the 30 children who went to Singapore in 2005 with London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe, when the British city won the bid to host this summer's Games.

Spyros Capralos, the President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC), said at the ceremony today: "The Flame is one of the most distinguished and essential symbols of Olympism.

"It is an integral part of the Olympic heritage, which links the Games of Antiquity, with modern ones.

"It plays the part of a timeless bridge that connects the past with the present and the next day of humanity.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge added: "The Torchbearers who carry this flame to London will spread the message of sport's capacity to promote peace and to make our world a better place.

"With this ceremony, we begin the final countdown to a dream that came to life seven years ago in Singapore, when London was selected.

"London is ready to welcome the world for the third time, and I congratulate Lord Coe and our friends at London 2012...for their splendid work to prepare for this global celebration of our common humanity."

Alex Loukas_from_Britain_lights_the_London_2012_Olympic_Torch_from_Spyros_Gianniotis_of_Greece_10-05-12
The Torch will now make its way across Greece, visiting a number of cities and being held by 500 torchbearers on its way to Athens.

It is a significant moment for Greece as the country, which had an inconclusive election last week, battles against an ailing economy and now has the chance to showcase itself to the world.

After starting the Torch Relay, Gianniotis spoke to insidethegames and said he hoped this would spur Greece's athletes on to do something "special" this summer.

"It is something very special for me because of the history of Greece and the Olympic Games and I was a part of it, the first runner," he said.

"For me it is like a sign I think for something special in the Olympics.

"Greece is having a really hard time, and the country's swimmers and athletes can do something special and make our country proud when we need it.

"We need a bit of good energy."

On May 17, the Torch will be carried into the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens for the handover ceremony to London 2012.

The last Torchbearers on the Greek leg will be Olympic champions Greek weightlifter Pyrros Dimas and Chinese gymnast Li Ning, who had the honour of lighting the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony in Beijing four years ago after being hoisted high into the air with cables and miming running around the high portion of the Bird's Nest Stadium.

London 2012 will then fly the flame to Land's End in Britain for its journey around the United Kingdom.

Coe said here today: "It is the rallying call for the athletes...not that they need it.

Alex Loukas_from_Britain_with_torch_May_10
"It is on the horizon but it is more than the horizon.

"You do notice it, when I competed in '80 and '84, it was a bit of a wake up call – the Torch is on its way.

"I think this is an extraordinary day but I think when it lands in a week's time and starts its route from Land's End that is massive.

"There is something about the Torch starting off on domestic soil."

London 2012 finished its testing phase this week with the last sporting test events and Coe told insidethegames that though there were things to improve, they were pleased with how they had gone.

"We are really pleased, not to the point where we have nothing to learn," he said.

"To have got through all the sporting test events with not really much more than tweaks."

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