MOSCOW // The flame that will burn at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games arrived in Moscow on Sunday, starting an epic torch relay around the huge country and bringing president Vladimir Putin’s campaign to stage Russia’s first post-Soviet Olympics a step closer to completion.
Mr Putin was to signal the start of the torch relay at a ceremony in Red Square 123 days before the Winter Olympics begin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on February 7.
The longest torch relay before a Winter Olympics will show off Russia’s variety as well as its sheer scale, taking the flame though all 83 regions in a more than 65,000 kilometre journey around the world’s biggest country.
It will go to the North Pole, to the top of Mt Elbrus, Europe’s highest peak, to the depths of Siberia’s Lake Baykal and aboard a rocket to the International Space Station, whose crew will take the torch — unlit — on a spacewalk.
More than 90 per cent of Russia’s 142 million people will be within one hour of the flame, which Sochi Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said should help “ensure that all residents of Russia will feel involved in the Olympic celebrations”.
After an International Olympic Committee inspection visit last month, delegation head Jean-Claude Killy said the venues, most of which had to be built from scratch, were ready and that athletes and spectators could expect “a fabulous experience”.