During the Torch Lighting Ceremony in Ancient Olympia, some clouds made their appearance at the crucial moment and prevented the sun rays from lighting up the Flame. So High Priestess Thalia Prokopiou had to use the Flame which was lit at the last rehearsal the night before and kept in a safety lamp.
But, in other respects, it was a brilliant ceremony. High jumper Lambros Papakostas, who came 6th at the Atlanta Games, was the first torchbearer. In his speech, the then HOC head Lambis Nikolaou said: “The Olympic Flame will bring to Australia the life-giving message which comes out from this sacred land. It is a message of happiness, friendship and solidarity between people, a message for a balanced physical and mental development, along with cultivating moral virtues.
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, said: “On behalf of Australia, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Greek people for this excellent gift. The Flame will travel overseas and spread out the message of participation and harmony throughout our island.”
World triple jump medallist Voula Tsiamita carried the Flame into the Panathenaic Stadium. The sacred light used all means of transport to reach its destination. It was the first time it travelled under water for 2 min. and 40 sec. and in space aboard the ‘Atlantis’ space shuttle.
Aboriginal Nova Peris-Kneebone, a gold medallist at the 1996 Games in the field hockey event, was the first torchbearer on Australian ground. She was handed the Flame in central Australia’s Uluru region, after its New Zealand leg. The Flame was welcomed with great enthusiasm in a snowy New Zealand with famous middle-distance veteran runner Peter Snell being the first torchbearer.
During the Relay, there were unfortunate moments as well. A young girl tried to put out the Flame, while a 23 years’ old man nearly grabbed it from the torchbearer Tom Carroll, a surfing champion.
Well-known Australian champions Shirley Strickland (track and field), Shane Gould (swimming), Debbie Flintoff-King (track and field), Betty Cuthbert (track and field) and Dawn Fraser (swimming) had carried the Flame before handing it over to Cathy Freeman, the last torchbearer. Famous retired middle-distance runner Herb Elliott was the last athlete to hold the Flame before Cathy Freeman.