DIMA BILAN JOINS TORCH RELAY

RSPORT.RU REPORTS – The record 123-day, 65,000-kilometer Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay across Russia started Monday with athletes, celebrities and even a prince carrying the flame around Moscow’s landmarks. Russian President Vladimir Putin received the flame on Red Square on Sunday before a brief relay through the grounds of the Kremlin, but Sochi 2014 organizers regard Monday’s first Moscow leg as the official start.

Police said around 60,000 people watched the relay as it passed city sights including the Moscow River and Gorky Park. “For me it was very exciting,” said the first torchbearer, synchronized swimmer Anastasia Davydova, who carried the flame across Red Square. “I wanted to carry it in a dignified way, and over the whole distance I was holding it with my arm outstreched.”

In addition to five-time Olympic champion Davydova, other torchbearers Monday included Prince Albert II of Monaco, legendary figure skater Irina Rodnina and double Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Svetlana Khorkina. “Now you feel like the Olympics have already started,” Russian Olympic Committee head Alexander Zhukov said after running his leg of the relay. “The emotions are unforgettable … This sort of thing happens once in a lifetime, especially in your home country. It’s more than a victory.”

The oldest person taking part was 98-year-old stage actor Vladimir Zeldin, a well-known figure in Russia. Being asked to be a torchbearer was “pleasant and a big responsibility,” he said. On a lighter note, former world boxing champion Kostya Tszyu dedicated his run to himself, while pop star Dima Bilan compared the experience to his 2008 Eurovision Song Contest win.

DIMA BILAN

After a two-day relay around Moscow, the flame will then head north to St. Petersburg before being flown to Russia’s Far East and eventually looping around the Kamchatka Peninsula, down to Vladivostok and back across southern Siberia via Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake.

On its way through more than 2,900 towns in Russia’s 83 regions, the torch will make its way back into European Russia, winding down through the Caucasus to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the opening ceremony.

Other high points on the relay’s route include a trip up Russia’s highest mountain, Elbrus, in sub-zero temperatures and the sending of an unlit torch into space. That torch will later be used to light the cauldron at the Fisht Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony February 7.

The flame was lit an Ancient Olympia on September 29 and toured 33 Greek towns and cities before being flown to Moscow on Sunday.

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