NHL star Ovechkin to begin Sochi torch relay
Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals warms up at Verizon Center on May 2, 2013 in Washington, DC.
The Capitals announced that right wing Ovechkin, the team captain, will leave the squad after Friday's pre-season home game against Philadelphia for the Olympic Torch igniting ceremony on Sunday at Olympia, Greece.
"I'm extremely humbled and honored to be the first Russian to carry the Olympic Torch," Ovechkin said of the Sochi relay launch. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I will never forget."
The torch will travel through all 83 regions of Russia, visiting 2,900 towns and settlements on its journey to Sochi for the Winter Olympics next February, when Ovechkin will try to lead a squad of Russian stars to their first gold medal since NHL players began competing at the Olympics in 1998.
Ovechkin, named the NHL's top player last season as well as in 2008 and 2009, will return to the Capitals on Sunday ahead of Tuesday's season opener at Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
"This is a huge honor and we are so proud and excited for Alex and his family," Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. "This is a very special event and we are thrilled that he was recognized for his past achievements and his dedication to his craft and his country."
Ovechkin, who is engaged to tennis player compatriot Maria Kirilenko, is one of the most recognisable faces in Russian sport.