Sunday, November 14, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Norway Claims Olympic Flame


LILLEHAMMER, Norway - When Norwegians begin an Olympic torch relay this month, thousands of runners will be carrying what some consider a phony flame.

The Norwegians will have two flames for the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer: one from Greece and the other from Norway's "cradle of skiing."

In keeping with tradition, the Greeks will light their flame on Jan. 15 at Ancient Olympia, a sanctuary in Greece dedicated to the god Zeus. The flame will be flown to Norway, with stops in Germany and the Nordic countries.

But before the Greeks even begin their trek, the eager Norwegians will be running with their own torch, which some insist burns with the real Winter Olympic flame.

On Nov. 27, the Norwegian flame will be ignited in the fireplace of the late Sondre Norheim, the man considered the father of modern skiing. The torch will be carried in a 75-day relay through all regions of Norway.

The Greeks believe the Norwegian torches will carry a rogue flame.

"We light the Olympic flame, which is the only flame," said Martin Simitsek, vice-president of Greek Olympic Committee.

Odd Ustad, spokesman for the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee, or LOOC, said the Greeks had complained about Norwegians using the term "Olympic flame."

Simitsek said the Norwegians had agreed in writing not to refer to their flame as "Olympic."

"There is only one Olympic flame, the one from Greece," Ustad said. He said a directive was sent to all LOOC employes ordering them to stop calling the Norwegian flame the Olympic flame. "We have been a little lax about it."

Ustad said the two flames will be joined in Oslo on Feb. 4. Greece, however, rejects the notion that the flames could become one.

"Flames can't be mixed," Simitsek said. "You can't play with the institution of the Olympic flame."

Simitsek said the International Olympic Committee would have to decide on the lighting of the Norwegian flame. Ustad said the plan for lighting and joining the flames had already been approved by the IOC coordinating committee at a meeting in Lillehammer on Tuesday.

The Greek flame will be lighted by using a concave mirror to focus the sun's rays. The Norwegians have picked a much older method for their flame. They'll rub two sticks together.

Last week, Lillehammer organizers arranged the finals of a national contest to find the country's best fire-starter. Olav Bekken, a 58-year-old museum curator, won the honor of lighting up Nordeim's fireplace, in a small house on the steep slopes of Morgedal valley, in Telemark county.

Norway's Princess Martha Louise will light the first Olympic torch from the fireplace.

To some Norwegians, the flame from Morgedal, about 150 miles southwest of Lillehammer, is the real Winter Olympic flame, no matter how the Greeks feel about it.

The last time Norway hosted an Olympics, in Oslo in 1952, and again in 1960 for the Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., the flame burst from Norheim's fireplace.

"The idea of lighting an Olympic flame for the Winter Games came from Morgedal in 1952. There hadn't been an Olympic flame for the Winter Games before that," said Eivind Strondi, a 71-year-old native of Morgedal who joined the first lighting ceremony 41 years ago.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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