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On 29 September 2013, the Olympic flame of the Sochi Games was lit at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, before being handed to the first torch bearer, young Greek skier Giannis Antoniou, who, in turn, passed it on to the first Russian in the relay, ice hockey icon and Sochi 2014 Ambassador, Alexander Ovechkin.
“I’m particularly honoured to be the first Russian torch bearer,” said Ovechkin. “I’m delighted, really – it’s hugely important to me. I’m proud to have attended the torch-lighting ceremony in Olympia, which was the beginning of the longest torch relay ever.”
Developed by a team of creative designers led by Vladimir Pirojkov and Andrei Vodyanik, the Sochi 2014 Olympic torch was chrome-plated with red detail, red being the traditional colour of Russian sporting teams. Feather-shaped, it was inspired by the phoenix, the legendary bird that rose from the ashes and that occupies a significant place in Russian folklore as a symbol of happiness and good fortune.
Courtesy of 250 torch bearers, the Olympic flame made its way around Greece for the duration of a week, passing through 33 towns and 23 regions prior to arriving at Panathenaic Stadium on 5 October, the venue for the first modern Olympic Games, where it was handed over to a Russian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, Sochi 2014 Olympic Organising Committee President Dmitry Chernyshenko and six-time Olympic speed skating champion Lidiya Skoblikova. The following day, the group flew back to Moscow with their precious cargo.
On 7 October, the flame was transported to Red Square in Moscow, where it was presented to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who duly lit the Olympic cauldron, symbolising the start of Sochi’s Torch Relay. Subsequently, 10 torch bearers took turns carrying the flame around the grounds of the Kremlin; young skaters Lina Fedorova and Maxim Miroshkin, winners of a silver medal at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games, then took over for the next section of the relay.
Getty Images / IOC
All in all, the flame spent 24 hours in the Russian capital, before setting off on an incredible journey across the largest country in the world, during which it would be carried by 14,000 people, cover 65,000km and cross 83 regions and nine time zones (from Kalingrad in the west to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean), all over a period of 123 days. It would pass through locations as varied as Murmansk, situated above the Arctic Circle and bordering Norway, and Khabarovsk, a few kilometres from the Chinese border.
During this odyssey, the Olympic torch was transported by practically any means known to man, including horses, boats, trains, planes, bikes, dog sleds, skis, snowboards and snowmobiles.
It would reach the North Pole and be carried underwater in Lake Baikal in Siberia, be launched into space on a Soyuz rocket towards the International Space Station, be hauled up to the summit of Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest peak, and be taken down the snowy slopes of the Avachinsky Volcano.
Torch bearers included cosmonauts, divers, skiers, artists, and former and current Olympic and Paralympic medallists. In the major cities and towns along the route, commemorative cauldrons were lit in front of large appreciative crowds.
Finally, on 7 February 2014, the Olympic Torch Relay reached Sochi. At the end of the Opening Ceremony in Fisht Olympic Stadium, the flame made its grand entrance, carried by tennis star Maria Sharapova, who handed it over to Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva. Next came legendary wrestler Aleksandr Karelin and Olympic rhythmic gymnastics gold medallist Alina Kabaeva. Last but not least, Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak, three-time Olympic champions in their respective sports (pair skating and ice hockey), took possession of the torch to jointly light the immense Olympic cauldron that would burn throughout the 16-day festival of winter sport.