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TORCH RELAY DRAWS THOUSANDS.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

Los Angeles caught Olympic fire Thursday as Hollywood heartthrobs passed the torch to residents during a daylong Olympic torch relay from the beach to Dodger Stadium.

To the theme of his hit film ``Rocky,'' Sylvester Stallone kicked off a relay that wound through the city with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Cruise and Olympic medalists Janet Evans and Rafer Johnson.

But some of the proudest stints came from regular Janes and Joes who raised the Olympic torch high above their heads.

``I have no words for it - ecstatic,'' said torch bearer Eleni Konstantinopoulos, 38, of Northridge. The native of Athens, Greece, site of the Summer Olympic Games, hoisted the 7-pound metal torch a quarter mile before she handed it off to the next runner.

``The pride, the honor, all the kids lined up along the street on both sides, people holding flags, cheering - amazing, amazing - it connected me back to Greece.''

The event began against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, when Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn handed the torch to Stallone after 9 a.m. The flame had just arrived on ``Zeus,'' its Olympian jet carrier from Mexico City.

``This is the proudest moment of my life,'' said Stallone, standing atop the sands of Venice Beach. ``I just hope I can live up to what the flame represents, which is honor, dignity and a never-say-die spirit.''

The star then sprinted toward shore for a brief lap before handing the flame to Dodger owner Frank McCourt.

To the cheers of thousands, the flame then bobbed above the shoulders of 140 runners from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills to Boyle Heights, along streets rich and poor, on its way to Dodger Stadium.

Few communities celebrated more than the Byzantine-Latin Quarter, where hundreds raised Greek flags on the steps of St. Sophia Cathedral, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in greater Los Angeles.

It was here that the Rev. John Bakas, dean of the cathedral, passed on the torch of his ancient homeland.

Present for a triumphal ceremony were city officials, Metropolitan Anthony - archbishop of the Diocese of San Francisco and head of seven Western states - and the consul general of Greece.

``Through this Olympic Games, there is peace and unity,'' declared Bakas, eyeing a nine-story mural of angels across the street. ``Each of us are angels with one wing - we can only fly while embracing one another.''

White doves and a flurry of blue and white balloons were then set free to soar above the cathedral domes.

``It's beyond ethnicity,'' said Elena Phillips, 49, of Los Angeles, of the world's first global Olympic torch relay, which will span 34 cities in 27 countries prior to the August games. ``I think this is for everyone.''

``Cool,'' said Sophia Spirus, 6, of Los Angeles, holding a small Greek flag. ``Amazing. Proud.''

The relay ended just before 7 p.m., when Cruise arrived in center field at Dodger Stadium during a deafening cheer by fans.

The star of such films as ``Mission Impossible'' then trotted around the field before passing the flame to four-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Evans, who passed it to boxing heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, who passed it to Johnson, who ran it over the pitcher's mound to home plate, where he lit the ceremonial cauldron.

The torch will head to St. Louis, then Atlanta and on to New York before it flies to Europe and home to Athens. In all, 10,000 torch bearers will have carried its flame.

``It's an L.A. moment, a very important part of history,'' said John Camacho, 28, of Rancho Cucamonga, after Cruise rounded third base, beaming at the torch.

``You can feel the excitement - pure energy.''

Staff Writer Rachel Uranga contributed to this report.

Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

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Actor Sylvester Stallone was the first to carry the Olympic torch Wednesday on its run through Los Angeles.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 17, 2004
Words:662
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