/ 5 February 2014

Sochi Olympic flame lit after world’s longest relay

Torchbearers Ildar Khalimov
Torchbearers Ildar Khalimov

The Olympic flame reached Sochi on Wednesday after a record-breaking 65 000km route.

During the journey, the torch relay reached the North Pole, went to the top of Europe's highest mountain, plunged into the world's deepest lake and was even taken into space by Russian cosmonauts.

The torchbearers included a 101-year-old man.

The relay generated genuine public enthusiasm, featuring famous cultural figures, athletes and other celebrities, and drawing big crowds across Russia.

But it also has seen some spectacular gaffes, with the flame flickering out on dozens of occasions and, in some cases, even engulfing the bearers.

Warm-up events before the Games have also been marred by ongoing homophobic violence against gay Russians and the implementation of anti-gay laws by President Vladimir Putin.

A look at some of the memorable moments of the Sochi torch relay: 

Record-setting journey
It started in Moscow on October 7 and stopped at more than 130 cities and towns across Russia.

For most of the route, the flame travelled by plane, train, car and even reindeer sleigh, but about 14 000 torchbearers took part in the relay.

North Pole stop
The torch reached the North Pole in October aboard a nuclear-powered icebreaker.

The ceremony involved torch bearers from eight Arctic nations.

Torch in space
On November 7, a rocket decorated with the emblem of the Sochi Games carried the torch to the International Space Station.

Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy then took the torch on an unprecedented spacewalk on November 9.

For safety reasons, the torch didn't burn aboard the space outpost.

Atop Europe's highest mountain
Russian mountaineers lit the torch atop Mount Elbrus, at 5 642m the highest mountain in Russia and Europe.

In the world's deepest lake
In November, divers plunged into Lake IBaikal, the world's biggest and deepest freshwater lake, with special torches burning underwater.

In volatile places
In recent weeks, the relay went through Chechnya and other provinces in the restive North Caucasus, which have been engulfed by a radical Islamist insurgency that issued threats to the Olympics.

No incidents occurred during the relay.

Oldest torchbearer
In December, 101-year-old table tennis referee Alexander Kaptarenko ran with the flame in Novosibirsk, becoming the oldest Olympic torchbearer in history.

He trained for his 200m run by jogging with a frozen salmon in his hand.

The torch relay has been marred by repeated cases of the flame flickering out.

The first such incident occurred at the very start of the relay near the Kremlin. A security guard quickly took out his lighter and reignited the torch.

Dozens of other such cases followed, drawing mockery and sardonic observations from some commentators.

Flame accidents
On at least two occasions, in the Siberian city of Bakan in November and in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg in December, torchbearers' clothes caught fire but were quickly extinguished without injury.

Some blamed the poor design of the torch, which was developed by a factory that manufactures ballistic missiles, drawing jokes about the reliability of the company's main product.

A wrestling coach, 73-year-old Vadim Gorbenko, died of a heart attack on December 15, a few hours after carrying the Olympic flame in the city of Kurgan. – Sapa-AP