Torchbearers in Marseille kick off Olympic flame’s journey across France

Joyful crowds gathered along the streets of France’s southern port city of Marseille on Thursday to see torchbearers carrying the Olympic flame, a day after it arrived on a majestic three-mast ship for a welcoming ceremony.

It was the first leg of an 11-week journey across the country for the torch, which will be carried by about 10,000 bearers as it passes through more than 450 towns until the opening ceremony in Paris on July 26.

Former footballer Basile Boli, who played for Marseille in the 1990s, kicked off Thursday’s relay from the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica that overlooks Marseille and the Mediterranean.

“I’m very proud,” he said. “You feel like you’re on top of the world, because with an Olympic flame there’s a special fervour… It’s the symbol of sport.”

Crowds watch the Olympic torch relay in Marseille
Crowds watch the Olympic torch relay in Marseille (Laurent Cipriani/AP)

“The enthusiasm of Marseille for the flame is phenomenal,”said Maurice Genevois, a local resident. “Honestly, I have rarely seen such a celebration.”

A fencing champion, a skateboarder, a Michelin-starred chef and a comedian were also chosen to carry the flame on Thursday.

“Let’s go for a fantastic celebration,” said Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris Olympics organising committee. “The Games are back in our country… Let’s share this fantastic moment of celebration with millions of people in the country.”

OLY Paris Torch Arrival
Olympic flame guards collect fire from the Olympic cauldron during the Olympic torch arrival ceremony in Marseille (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

Torchbearers included Ukrainian gymnast Mariia Vysochanska, who won two gold medals at the 2020 European Championships and competed at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Her inclusion was an expression of solidarity with Ukraine as well as a symbolic gesture to mark Europe Day, which falls on May 9 each year. She led a group of 27 other athletes who represent all European Union member states.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –