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The Travels And Travails Of The Olympic Torch

Surrounded by folks in traditional garb, torchbearer Akhmetova Svetlana (center) holds the torch aloft as the Olympic flame passes through the city of Irkutsk on the way to Sochi.
Surrounded by folks in traditional garb, torchbearer Akhmetova Svetlana (center) holds the torch aloft as the Olympic flame passes through the city of Irkutsk on the way to Sochi.
The Olympic torch relay began last October with the fortuitous presence of a cigarette smoker.

Torchbearer and former Soviet world swimming champion Shavarsh Karapetyan had just trotted out from under the Kremlin walls when the flame disappeared.

Perplexed, Karapetyan continued to run until a member of the Russian security services reignited the torch with his high-end lighter:

Over the 65,000 kilometers that the torch has travelled since, the flame, which in Greek mythology represents fire stolen from the sun-God Zeus, has experienced exultation and tragedy (and a few more burnouts along the way). Here is a roundup of the more memorable -- and sometimes troubling -- moments of its long journey:

October 19 -- For the first time in its history, the Olympic torch travels to the North Pole:

November 7 -- The torch travels to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz space capsule. Due to safety concerns, the torch, which is taken on a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts, is not lit during the flight or while inside the space station:

November 19 -- Members of the national ice-swimming team -- otherwise known as "walruses" -- swim with the lit torch across the Amur River in Russia's Far East city of Blagoveshchensk:

November 28 -- The torch sets a former Olympic bobsledder on fire in the Siberian city of Abakan. The sportsman, Pyotr Makarchuk, is unharmed and continues to run after onlookers extinguish the flames on his Olympic jacket:

December 15 -- Tragedy strikes in the western Siberian city of Kurgan when Vadim Gorbenko, a 73 year-old Greco-Roman wrestling coach and sports school director, dies of acute heart failure shortly after carrying the torch. In the video below, he tells a reporter after his run that he feels "great" and is breathing comfortably:

January 18 -- Officials tackle and then detain Pavel Lebedev, a gay Russian teenager, after he unfurls a rainbow flag in the southwestern city of Voronezh. "Hosting the games here contradicts the basic principles of the Olympics, which is to cultivate tolerance," he tells the Associated Press news agency. In June 2013, Russia adopted a law banning gay "propaganda." It's not clear if Lebedev faces any penalties in connection with the law:

January 28 -- Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov holds a lavish torch ceremony in Grozny. The Chechen strongman and Instagram addict, long criticized by activists for human rights abuses, posts copious updates on Instagram, including a clip of him lighting a cauldron with the torch "Long live Russia! Long live Putin! Long Live the Olympics!" he says, ending his speech with three chants of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great):

February 5 -- On the torch's last stop before reaching Sochi, a social media campaign encourages "the remains of the heterosexual community of Krasnodar to gather and sing the Russian national anthem at the city stadium" torch ceremony. The event, called "we also sing," is being held in response to a Swedish video in which gay and Lesbian families sing the Russian anthem before a rainbow flag:

-- Glenn Kates

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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