MOSCOW (Reuters) - A torchbearer died of a heart attack after carrying the Olympic flame as part of Russia’s torch relay leading up to the Sochi 2014 Winter Games in February, an official said on Monday.
Vadim Gorbenko, 73, a sports school director and Greco-Roman wrestling coach, felt ill after walking 150 metres (500 feet) with the torch in his home city of Kurgan in western Siberia, said Roman Osin, spokesman for the Sochi 2014 torch relay.
“He returned to the gathering place and was photographed, then he said he was not feeling well and was taken to hospital, but the doctors were unable to save him,” Osin, who travels with the relay, said by telephone.
“We express our deepest condolences to his loved ones.”
Osin said Gorbenko, who had trained top Russian wrestlers and won state honors, had suffered two heart attacks in the past. He was conscious when he was taken to hospital and had spoken to his son at his bedside before his death.
Russia’s four-month, 65,000-km (40,000 mile) torch relay has been clouded by mishaps.
The flame has gone out dozens of times since President Vladimir Putin handed it off in Red Square on October 6, and last month a torchbearer’s jacket caught fire as he carried the flame though another Siberian city.
Cosmonauts took an unlit torch on a spacewalk last month. The Olympic flame has been to the north pole and Lake Baikal on a journey that will end at the opening ceremony in Sochi on February 7.
Putin appears eager to improve Russia’s image and build his own legacy by hosting the country’s first post-Soviet Olympics, but he has faced criticism over legislation seen in the West as anti-gay and some world leaders are staying away from the Games.
The 14,000 torchbearers in the Sochi 2014 relay are not asked to sign releases but are warned that it involves some physical exertion and their health is their own responsibility, Osin said.
Writing by Steve Gutterman, editing by Elizabeth Piper