November 22, 2005

Pope, Armani and Totti to follow Olympic flame

By Rachel Sanderson

ROME (Reuters) - Luminaries as disparate as Pope Benedict
and fashion guru Giorgio Armani will follow the Olympic flame's
relay up and down the Italian peninsula for the start of the
20th Winter Games, organizers said on Tuesday.

The flame, carried in a "magic lantern," will touch down in
Rome on December 7 after a flight from Greece's ancient

From there it will make a 64-day journey south to Sicily
and back north again to the Winter Games Alpine host city,

On its way, it will be held aloft by Venetian gondoliers,
Roman soccer players, Milanese showgirls and even ride in a
flame-red Ferrari.

"It is a route that will show all the beauty and variety of
our country," Turin Games chief Valentino Castellani told a
news conference.

The relay of the "flame of peace" has become a spectacle in
past Olympics and Italy has had a lot to live up to for the
February 10-26 Games, the first Italy has hosted since 1960.

Before the Athens Olympics in 2004, the flame circled the
world on a six-week tour under tight security, flying from
country to country in a specially chartered jumbo dubbed Zeus.

Italy's torch relay will be a much smaller affair.

Still, organizers hope its 11,000-km trek to 140 cities,
from Sicily to the border with Austria, will ignite national
interest and so-far sluggish ticket sales.

Olympic marathon champion Stefano Baldini will be the first
torchbearer on Italian soil after President Carlo Azeglio
Ciampi lights it from the "magic lantern."

Armani, Italy and AS Roma striker Francesco Totti and
thousands of other runners selected for their community work,
will be among the 10,001 torchbearers.

Among highlights will be Pope Benedict XVI's blessing of
the torch when it passes through St. Peter's Square, its ride
in a Ferrari in the racing car's hometown of Maranello, and a
cruise on a gondola in Venice when it blazes across the lagoon

The flame arrives in Turin on February 10 for the
spectacular ceremony to open the games, which will take place
there and in a host of surrounding towns.