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Olympic flame arrives on French soil for Paris Games

By AFP

May 8, 2024 11:38 PM


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The Olympic flame arrived on French soil on Wednesday at the port of Marseille on board a 19th century ship in front of 150,000 spectators for a ceremony that posed a first major test for organisers ahead of the 2024 Paris Games.

Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Florent Manaudou carried the torch from the deck of the Belem, a three-masted vessel which had transported it from Greece.

Manaudou passed the torch to Paralympic champion sprinter Nantenin Keita, who handed it to French rapper Jul to light a cauldron.

As the Belem entered Marseille's Old Port surrounded by hundreds of small boats, planes from the Patrouille de France display team swooped overhead tracing the Olympic rings in the sky before they returned to paint the red, white and blue of the French flag in the air.

Fireworks also tore into the sky as the Belem docked after its 12-day voyage from Greece, where the flame was lit in Olympia on April 16.

The arrival of the flame marks the start of a 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) torch relay across France and its far-flung overseas territories.

Organisers are hoping the first public spectacle of the Games on French soil -- just 79 days from an opening ceremony that will take place on the river Seine -- will help build excitement after a row about ticket prices and concerns about security.

"It's something we've been waiting for for a very long time," chief organiser Tony Estanguet said on Monday, referring to the 100 years since Paris last staged the Games. "The Games are coming home."

France, which was also the host in 1900, sees itself at the heart of the modern Olympic movement after a French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, revived the idea of the Games as practised by the Greeks until the 4th century BC.

After the Covid-hit edition in Tokyo in 2021 and the corruption-tainted Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, the Paris Olympics are seen as an important moment for the sporting extravaganza.

  High security 

 In the background in Marseille, around 6,000 security forces are on duty at a time when the country is on its highest terror alert.

Other stars to take part in the parade, which continues in Marseille on Thursday, include NBA-winning basketball player Tony Parker and Ivory Coast football great Didier Drogba.

Extremely tight security will be a constant feature as the torch travels through more than 450 French towns and cities, and passes by dozens of tourist attractions including the Mont Saint Michel.

Around 200 members of the security forces are set to be positioned permanently around it, including an anti-terror SWAT team and anti-drone operatives.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has referred to the risk of protests, including from far-left groups or environmental activists such as Extinction Rebellion.

Organisers have promised a "spectacular" and "iconic" Olympics, with much of the sport set to take place in temporary venues around the City of Light including at the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides.

In the absence of a much-feared security scare, the opening ceremony will take place in boats on the river Seine in a radical departure from past Games which have opened in the main stadium.

All of the major infrastructure has been completed with only two new permanent sporting venues built in a bid to reduce the financial cost and carbon emissions of the global extravaganza.

The idea of the torch rally harks back to the ancient Olympics when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games.

The Paris Olympics will run from July 26-August 11, followed by the Paralympics from August 28-September 8.


AFP


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