MOSCOW – Russia’s Olympic torch relay got off to a rocky start Sunday when the flame briefly went out on one of the torchbearers just as he was passing through a Kremlin gate.
The Olympic flame arrived in Moscow from Athens on Sunday ahead of the Winter Games in February in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw a ceremony during which the Greek flame was used to light a cauldron set up on a temporary basis on the Kremlin’s Red Square.
That flame was then used to light the first torch in a brief relay ceremony around the Kremlin that was broadcast live on national television.
Things went wrong when the flame passed to the second torchbearer — Soviet-era underwater swimming champion Shavarsh Karapetyan.
The 60-year-old had just run past one of the Kremlin gates when he noticed that the flame of his silver-and-red torch had gone out.
He began gesturing for help while continuing to run with the unlit torch in his right hand.
An official in a black coat walked up to Karapetyan moments later and relit the torch with a simple cigarette lighter.
The original Greek flame remained lit in the Red Square cauldron the entire time.
But the incident created a buzz on Russia’s social networks and threatened to overshadow ceremonies that Putin had hoped to use to showcase the country’s growing standing in the world.
Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko quickly dismissed the incident as a minor hiccup that had no bearing on the Olympics.
“I would not attach too much importance to what happened and call on people not to pay attention to it,” the state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted Chernyshenko as saying.
The event’s chief organizer said the flame had gone out because the valve of the torch used by Karapetyan had not been fully opened.
“All the torches have passed numerous tests and they will burn irrespective of the wind.”
Chernyshenko added that the original Greek flame was being stored in 30 separate containers that would be used to light torches at the start of each day of Russia’s national relay event.
The flame that was lit in a traditional ceremony in Ancient Olympia on Sept. 29 will leave Moscow on Monday and reach Sochi for the Olympics’ opening ceremony on Feb. 7 after traveling 65,000 km across Russia’s 83 regions.