Rio 2016 Olympic flame is lit at temple of Hera in Greece

The official countdown to this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics has begun with the lighting of the torch at the site of the ancient Games, which organisers hoped would shift attention away from Brazil’s political and financial turmoil.

On Thursday, Katerina Lehou, an actor playing a high priestess, lit a torch from the rays of the sun at the temple of Hera, using a parabolic mirror, to set off a domestic relay.

Brazilian organisers will receive the flame in a handover at the Panathenian stadium on 27 April in Athens, site of the first modern Olympics, and will start their relay on 3 May in the capital Brasília, ending in Rio for the opening ceremony. Preparations for the first Games in South America, which run from 5-21 August, have been plagued by problems and a shortage of cash for organisers, as the country is experiencing its worst recession in decades. “[The torch-lighting] brings a message that can and will unite our dear Brazil, a country that is suffering much more than it deserves in its quest for a brighter future,” Rio Games chief, Carlos Nuzman, said in a speech.
The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, who cancelled her trip to ancient Olympia, is facing impeachment. The crisis has paralysed the country’s ability to revive its economy from recession in the midst of a huge corruption scandal involving state-run oil firm Petrobras.
“Despite the difficulties that Brazil is facing today, the flame is a timeless reminder that we are all part of the same humanity,” the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, said. “Rio de Janeiro ... will provide a spectacular to showcase the best of the human spirit. In just a few weeks the Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and their passion for sport.”
Thursday’s ceremony marks 80 years since the relay, which did not exist in the ancient Greek Olympics, was introduced by the Nazi organisers of the 1936 Berlin Games.