History, route, cost… The Olympic flame in five questions

For the Olympic flame, the great journey begins. It was lit this Tuesday morning at the legendary site of Olympia and will arrive in Paris on July 26, the day of the opening ceremony of the Games. The Greek Olympic rowing champion Stefanos Douskos, crowned in Tokyo, will take over the first relay, before passing the torch to Laure Manaudou, titled in London 20 years ago in the 400 meter freestyle. This flame, supposed to resist wind and rain, represents the ideal of peace and unity between peoples.

A not so old tradition

A “high priestess” in a costume inspired by Antiquity, stationed in front of the ruins of the temple of Hera, 2,600 years old. At first glance, the flame ritual might seem as old as the Olympic Games, created in the 8th century BC before being resurrected in their modern form by the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin in 1896. In fact, not at all.

If torch races existed at the time of Pericles or Aristotle, they only concerned certain festivities, but not the Olympic Games. The current torch relay was established for the 1936 Games in Berlin. The Nazis, led by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, had a penchant for Greek antiquity. For the Winter Games, we will have to wait for those of Oslo in 1952, which had much less connotations…

Back to normal, finally

In 2020 and 2021, before the Summer Games in Tokyo and the Winter Games in Beijing, the ceremonial was disrupted, like all other events in the world, by the Covid pandemic. In March 2020, the relay was interrupted on Greek soil to avoid popular gatherings and therefore limit the risks of contamination, after having attracted a very large crowd in Sparta. For this edition, we return to the old splendors, with the presence of officials and a complete tour in public.

What route?

This Tuesday, the Olympic flame began a 5,000 km journey across Greece. The trip will last eleven days with stops on the islands of Corfu, Santorini, and the Acropolis of Athens. It is in the Greek capital, at the Panathéic stadium, that it will be transmitted to the French organizers on April 26. The flame will leave Piraeus aboard the Belem, a famous three-masted ship as thin as a bird, to reach France and Marseille on May 8.

Will it pass throughout France?

No, 64 territories, including five overseas, will be covered by nearly 10,000 torchbearers over approximately 12,000 km. Certain departments, notably Gard, Isère and Savoie, or a large city like Lyon have given up participating in the festival, mainly for cost reasons. “We would have liked to do it, naturally, but 180,000 euros for an action that lasts one day does not seem reasonable to us in terms of public action,” explained Bruno Bernard, the EELV president of the metropolis in June 2023.

Where to stay in Paris?

The basin which will host the flame throughout the duration of the competition will not be located at the Stade de France, the epicenter of the Games. It will be installed in the Tuileries garden, at the level of the large round basin, between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, in the heart of the capital. Originally, it was the Cour Carrée of the Louvre which was to host this symbol of the Olympic Games, but it was deemed less easy for the public to access by the organizers.

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