Alex Ovechkin fulfilled a dream Sunday, carrying the Olympic torch near the beginning of its journey toward Russia and its final resting place in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Washington Capitals superstar forward was the second dignitary -- and first Russian -- to carry the torch after it was lit during an afternoon ceremony in the ruins of the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera. Organizers invoked the spirit of the Greek god Apollo and lit the torch by using a parabolic mirror to harness the sun's rays to kindle a flame in a ceremony attended by thousands of spectators, as well as new International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, as well as the head of the Sochi organizing committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko.
Ovechkin was the second member of the relay, accepting the lit torch for his leg of the relay from Greece's 18-year-old Alpine skier, Ioannis Antoniou. Ovechkin, 28, was wearing a white warmup suit as he accepted the torch and held it in his right hand as he waved with his left hand during his run along the route.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something I will never forget," Ovechkin told a correspondent from AFP news agency.
"So sick!!!!!!!best moment in my life!!!," Ovechkin added on his Twitter feed, @Ovi8, posting a picture of him carrying the torch.
The ceremony on Sunday commenced a week-long torch relay that will visit 20 Greek towns before arriving Oct. 5 at the site of the old Olympic Stadium in Athens, site of the first Games in 1896. It is there that the Russian delegation will receive the flame and begin its journey to Sochi for the Winter Games, which begin Feb. 7.
During its relay to Sochi, the torch will follow a long and winding path that will take it through 2,900 towns and settlements, as well as through all 83 regions of Russia before arriving in Sochi for the Opening Ceremony. For the first time in Olympic history, the torch will also visit space. It is scheduled to travel to the International Space Station, where it will be taken on a spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts. The torch will not be lit during the spacewalk because of safety concerns.
Most of the torch bearers have not yet been named, but it is widely believed that Ovechkin's mother, Tatyana, winner of gold medals in basketball at both Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980, could be among the legion of carriers involved in the relay.
Ovechkin missed the Washington Capitals final preseason game on Saturday in order to travel to Greece. He is expected to arrive back in Washington late Sunday night after the quick trip to Europe. He is expected to take part in the Capitals practice Monday morning before the team travels to Chicago for the regular-season opener on Tuesday against the Blackhawks at the United Center.