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Olympic flame sets sail for France

April 27, 2024

The flame that will symbolically preside over the 2024 Olympics in Paris is underway to France — by sea. It already has a long land journey behind it.

Three-masted sailing ship, French flag being waved by spectator
The barque Belem, built in 1896, is carrying the Olympic flame to FranceImage: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

The Olympic flame sailed from the Greek port of Piraeus for France on Saturday aboard a three-masted ship as it slowly makes its way to the French capital ahead of the Games opening ceremony on July 26.

As is traditional, the flame was lit in ancient Olympia. It was then carried through Greece by relay for 11 days.

It was handed to the Paris Games organizers on Friday in a ceremony at Athens' Panathenaic stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

Well-known Greek singer Nana Mouskouri sang the French and Greek anthems at the ceremony.

At another brief ceremony in Piraeus on Saturday, the flame was taken on board the sailing ship Belem to commence its 11-day voyage to the southern French city of Marseille.

The tradition of the Olympic torch goes back to the ancient Olympics, where a sacred flame burned throughout the competition. The tradition was revived in 1936 for the Berlin Games.

A view of a replica of an ancient Greek trireme
Replicas of ancient Greek triremes were present at the departure from Piraeus Image: Louisa Gouliamaki/REUTERS

What happens now?

After arriving in Marseille on May 8, with 150,000 spectators expected to witness the event, the flame will be carried by a torch bearer to the roof of the Velodrome stadium the following day.  

It will then be carried on a 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile), 68-day journey by 10,000 torch bearers across 64 French territories, including overseas territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific.

This relay will end in Paris on July 26, when the Olympic cauldron will be lit during the Games' opening ceremony.

As part of that ceremony, 160 boats carrying athletes from around the world will travel 6 kilometers on the Seine River toward the Eiffel Tower.

Some 300,000 spectators are expected to watch from the banks, while millions around the world view the event on television.

 Man carrying a lamp-like object
Chief 2024 Games organizer Tony Estanguet carried the flame on board the BelemImage: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

'More responsible Games'  

 The chief organizer of the Paris Olympics, Tony Estanguet, said he was deeply moved by Saturday's departure.

 "The feelings are so exceptional. It's such an emotion for me," he told reporters in Piraeus.

"These games mean a lot. It's been a centenary since the last time we organized the Olympic Games in our country," he added. 

Estanguet said the goal for Paris was to hold "spectacular but also more responsible Games, which will contribute toward a more inclusive society."

Massive security

The Games, which are likely to take place against the backdrop of major conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, are to be held amid high security.

The French government has asked around 45 foreign countries to contribute several thousand extra military, police and civilian personnel to help safeguard the event.

tj/sms (AFP, Reuters)