By Ingrid Melander
ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (Reuters) - Priestesses praying to the Greek god Apollo under the blazing sun got the rehearsal for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics' torch-lighting ceremony off to a smooth start on Wednesday.
The tranquil proceedings were a far cry from the protests seen in 2008 when human rights activists disrupted the globally televised Beijing Olympics event on the site of the ancient Olympic stadium in southwestern Greece.
Their actions triggered a chain of protests that followed the torch relay throughout its journey to China.
Organizers expect some protests at the February 12-28 Olympics in the western Canadian city of Vancouver over civil liberties and the use of what some claim is "native American land."
However, the rehearsal for Thursday's ceremony went without a hitch as tourists watched peacefully while a Greek actress dressed as a High Priestess lit the torch with a concave mirror reflecting the sun's rays before handing it to a skier.
"I have every confidence it's going to be grand tomorrow, especially as the weather gods are on our side," the director of the torch relay, Jim Richards, told reporters after the rehearsal. "It's really the start of the Games."
Thursday's ceremony will kick-off an eight-day torch relay of over 2,000km throughout Greece before the torch is handed over to the Canadian Organizers in Athens' Panathenian stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896.
The torchbearers will not be obliged to wear the winter hat and gloves that the first of them, 31-year old ski champion Vassilis Dimitriadis, sported in the hot weather during Wednesday's rehearsal, Organizers said.
However, Dimitriadis will have to put on his ski wear again as a symbol for the start of February's Olympics, they said.
The flame is a link with the ancient Olympics, which first took place in 776 BC, after a fire burned throughout the sporting celebration to commemorate its theft from Zeus by Prometheus.
The torch-lighting ceremony starts in the temple of Goddess Hera before a child cuts a branch of olive tree and priestesses march in procession toward the ancient stadium, where they dance to a choreography inspired by ancient depictions.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)