Sochi’s history making Olympic torch relay

The Olympic torch relay is one of the most spectacular events of the Olympic Games, in which host cities have started a tradition of competing to stage the most colorful events.

The Sochi-2014 Olympic torch relay started from Moscow on October 7, 2013, and covered 90 percent of the territory of Russia. Source: RIA Novosti

Timur Ganeev, for RBTH

The torch relay of the Sochi games will be remembered not only as the longest, but also as one of the most unusual events in Olympic history: During its trip through Russia, the Olympic torch rode a Russian troika, a reindeer sleigh, and a camel, visited the international space station, and dove to the bottom of Lake Baikal. However, the heroes of the relay have been the torchbearers. Each of them has his own story.

The Sochi-2014 Olympic torch relay started from Moscow on October 7, 2013, and covered 90 percent of the territory of Russia. The Olympic flame has been seen by about 130 million people. In total, the torch traveled more than 65,000 kilometers (40,400 miles). This is an absolute record for the Winter Olympics. 

The torch traveled across Russia by car, train, plane, a Russian troika pulled by horses, a reindeer sleigh, a camel, and eventaly it made it to space for the first time in Olympic-torch history.

The 14,000 torchbearers were the main engines of the relay. Among them were ordinary citizens, as well as great Soviet and Russian athletes, such as skier Lyubov Yegorova, speed skater Lidia Skoblikova, biathlete Alexander Tikhonov, hockey player Vladislav Tretiak, and many others.

The most titled Russian athlete in the history of the Olympic Winter Games with 10 medles, Raisa Smetanina, shared her impressions of the relay with RBTH.

"I was very happy to carry the Olympic flame. It is an honor for any athlete. Moreover, I was the final torchbearer in my city and a lot of people turned out to see me; the organizers said that there were about 70,000,” she said. Smetanina participated in the Olympic torch relay in the city of Syktyvkar in northern Russia. “I felt like I was participating in the Olympics once again."

For the Russian Ice Hockey Federation President and three-time Olympic champion Vladislav Tretyak, the torch relay was the third in his life.

“The Sochi 2014 Olympic flame united all the people in Russia. Almost anyone in our country who wanted to could see the torch and catch the Olympic spirit,” he said. “Many people noted such minor details like the torch going out a few times. I don't think this fact is important at all. It seemed to me that the country is celebrating with high hopes. I hope that the athletes will be able to live up to everyone's expectations.”

Tretyak said he had had the honor of carrying the Olympic torch in the Turin relay in 2006 and accepted the torch from the organizers of the Games in Vancouver in 2010.

“It is an indescribable feeling," he said.

Olympic relay of the 21st century: A technology race

The first Olympic torch relay was held at the Summer Games in Berlin (1936). Three thousand runners took part in it. The flame was lit at the 1936 and 1948 Winter Olympics, but a relay was first held in 1952 before the Winter Olympics in Oslo.

In the 21st century Olympic organizers are constantly trying to amaze the public with some type of innovations. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, for the first time in the history of the games, a global relay was held with a burning torch. It was a simple torch resembling a twisted olive leaf. Technically, however, it had some problems, and in the course of the relay it was repeatedly blown out by the wind. The flame went out just as the Olympic flame was being solemnly presented to the president of the organizing committee of the Games, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, in the Temple of Hera.

The Olympic torch relay at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 was the last world relay. In 2009, the IOC decided the torch could travel only on the territory of the country hosting the Games.  During the relay for the 2012 Games in London, torchbearers carried the Olympic torch across the entire UK. The Olympic flame rode on a cable car, the London Underground, and racehorses. The torch was guarded by a specially trained unit of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). During the relay the MPS prevented the Derry Republicans (Northern Ireland) from stealing the Olympic flame, and saved the torch from a resident of Headingley (a suburb of Leeds) who wanted to throw a bucket of water on it.

The Moscow Olympic flame

The Olympic torch relay at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow lasted a little less than a month. In addition to the U.S.S.R., the torch traveled to Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania.

1980 Olympics torch relay in Russia. Source: YouTube 

In Moscow the Olympic torch was carried through the Arc de Triumph on Kutuzovski Prospekt and spent the night before the opening ceremony in the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The famous basketball player Sergei Belov, who died in 2013, was entrusted with lighting the Olympic flame. 

It has not yet been announced who will light the flame during the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Games on February 7. According to organizers, it will be a deserving person who has done much for Russian athletics.

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