Russia struggles to keep Olympic torch burning

Tue Nov 5, 2013 7:45am EST
 
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By Ian Bateson

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Olympic torch has been to the North Pole and traveled thousands of kilometers (miles) on the relay that will end at the Sochi Winter Games in Russia in February. The problem is, the flame keeps going out.

President Vladimir Putin aims to make the Games a showcase of Russia's modern face to the world 23 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. But preparations have been dogged by delays, cost overruns and criticism over issues ranging from Russia's treatment of gays, a ban on most protests in Sochi and the treatment of migrant workers on construction sites.

On top of that, the longest torch relay in Olympic history has been interrupted repeatedly since Putin launched it by hoisting the torch high outside the Kremlin on October 6.

It went out minutes later as a former Soviet swimming champion jogged with it through an archway into the Kremlin. In an incident broadcast live on state television, a plainclothes guard saved the day with a cigarette lighter.

U.S. lighter manufacturer Zippo posted a picture of the guard lighting the torch on Facebook, with the Twitter hashtag #ZippoSavestheOlympics, before threats of legal action from the International Olympic Committee prompted its removal.

The flame spluttered and died at least eight times in the first six days of the relay, the independent Dozhd television and Internet channel said.

Yulia Latynina, a journalist who has been following the planned 65,000-km (40,000-mile) relay, says the torch - made at a Siberian factory that produces submarine-launched ballistic missiles - has already gone out at least 44 times on its way to Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast.

"A torch is a lot simpler than a missile - it's a big gas lighter," Latynina said on Ekho Moskvy radio station. "Question: Do our missiles fly the way our torches burn?"   Continued...

 
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a lighted Olympic torch during a ceremony to mark the start of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics torch relay in Moscow October 6, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin