The Highs and Lows of the Sochi Torch
The journey of the Sochi torch has been epic on many levels.
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The Olympic torch relay that would precede the 2014 games in Sochi was pitched as record breaking in the same way that the Olympics were seen as a symbol of Russia’s cosmopolitan, progressive present.
Neither has really worked out so far as the relay has been beset by technical failures, delays and combusting torchbearers before hitting a tragic note earlier this week. The torch has also travelled further than ever before and to places never yet reached by minor public figures in cheap tracksuits. We chart the highs and lows of Sochi’s well-travelled torch.
[part title="Northern Lights"]
After a stuttering beginning (more on this later) the Sochi torch arrived at the North Pole for the first time on 20 October. It was carried on a nuclear-powered ice-breaker whose name in English is 50 Years of Victory, arriving in a world record time from Murmansk.
Upon arriving at the top of the world the torch was taken to the magnetic pole by Artur Chilingarov - a Russian Polar explorer.
[part title="To Boldly Go Where No torch Has Gone Before"]
Now those of you who’ve seen Gravity or attained some basic science education will know that fire and the endless vacuum of space are not a great mix. This didn’t stop the Russians blasting the 2kg torch into space to spend 5 days aboard the International Space Station and then taking it on a spacewalk.
This was the third time that the torch had left the planet but the first occasion it had bandied about in the great beyond. Sadly, in what can only be described as a lack of scientific ambition on the part of the Russians, the torch was unlit the entire time.
[part title="Father Frost and the Torch"]
In between the torch reaching the North Pole and Outer Space the games also employed a mythical figure as a torchbearer. Clearly unimpressed with London 2012 wheeling out low-level public servants, Ded Moroz, Father Frost - the Slavic equivalent of Santa Claus, carried the torch around Volgoda whilst driving a wheeled cart drawn by horses.
There was initially a dispute over what Ded Moroz should wear, with organisers originally planning to have the cultural icon dressed in the official Sochi2014 tracksuit rather than his usual blue floor length fur coat and magical staff. Luckily sense prevailed and Ded Moroz told reporters that he was honoured to be part of the procession and would ‘try to make these games the fairest and most honest’.
[part title="Under the Sea"]
Unhappy with just conquering fire’s aversion to vacuums, the Sochi organisers also took the torch to the world’s largest fresh-water lake. Lake Baikal contains 20% of the world’s fresh water and is over a kilometre and a half deep at it’s deepest point and in true Sochi2014 fashion the dive was delayed due to sudden storms.
When they subsided two divers descended into the lake swimming to 13m below the surface with a modified torch that burned like a flare - a torch capable of burning underwater but not when wandering around the Kremlin. After that it was returned by a man wearing a jetpack.
[part title="44 Times and Counting"]
In theory the Olympic torch is never supposed to be extinguished on it’s route from Athens to the Games’ host city. As relays get more ambitious this has become more difficult and allowances have been made for the occasional slip up.
In October alone the torch went out 44 times including 8 times in the first week. The first instance occurred minutes after Putin had handed the torch over to the first carrier. Luckily a security guard was on hand to revive the torch with his cigarette lighter.
[part title="In Russia, Torch Lights You"]
As the Yakov Smirnoff’s joke goes, ‘In Russia, torch lights you.’ Not everyone has been so lucky as to have the torch expire on them. At the end of November Pyotr Makarchuk, a former bobsledder carried the flame through Abakan in Siberia.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until the torch leaked liquid gas onto his jacket causing him to temporarily catch on fire. Luckily for him the fire went out quickly - as you’d expect - and he was unhurt, and luckily for everyone else the incident quickly appeared on YouTube.
[part title="The Next Step"]
The relay has another 50 stages to survive before reaching Sochi on February 4th - including a trip to Europe’s highest peak, Mount Erebus. What could possibly go wrong? What else is left..