by Kraig Becker
In February of next year the best winter athletes in the world will descend upon the village of Sochi in Russia to compete against one another in the XXII Winter Olympic Games. The men and women taking part in those events will glide down the sides of mountains on skis and snowboards, twirl across the ice on skates and rocket through a bobsled course designed to test their skills as well as their nerve. But before all of those events can get underway the Olympic flame – the eternal symbol of the games – must first make its way from Greece to the host country as part of the traditional torch relay. This time out that flame will make its way to several very remote and adventurous destinations before it arrives in Sochi in time to kick off the opening ceremonies.
Starting on October 7 and extending for the following 123 days, the torch will make its way across 83 distinct regions in Russia, passing through more than 2900 towns and villages along the way. The route covers 65,000 km (40,389 miles) before reaching Sochi, making it the longest in Olympic history. The torch relay will give Russian citizens an opportunity to feel the Olympic spirit long before the start of competition and it will help build momentum towards that kick off of the games.
All of this is very traditional for a torch relay of course, but just like the past few host countries, Russia has a few other destinations for the flame in mind as well. For instance, not long after the start of the relay a nuclear powered icebreaker will take the torch to the North Pole for a special ceremony to be held at the top of the world. Then in November, a team of divers will also take the Olympic flame to the bottom of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. The lake holds the distinction of being the largest and deepest in the world with a measured depth of over 1642 meters (5387 feet). Finally, the torch will also go to the summit of Mt. Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe with an altitude of 5642 meters (18,510 ft). Olympic officials have enlisted the aid of Abdul-Halim Olmezov and Karina Mezova – two former Everest summiteers – to help successfully complete that particular segment of the relay. They are expected to complete the climb sometime in early February.
With the start of the game rapidly approaching and controversy now surrounding the host country, Russia is in desperate need of some good PR. I’m sure the organizers of the games are hoping that taking the torch to these far flung places will help to distract those who are calling for the venue to change locations. It’s doubtful that relay will have any kind of impact on thosee issues but it certainly should be fun to see the flame burn brightly in those wild and remote places.