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Russia's Olympic Woes Compound as a Torch Runner Catches Fire

It's just the latest screeching derailment in the slow-moving train wreck that is the 2014 Winter Olympics torch relay.

Here's a candidate for a new kind of Olympic sport: getting the games' sacred torch across the country without something terribly embarrassing happening.

Were that event to be on the schedule for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Russia would have already earned a Cardboard Medal of Shame. The superpower seems incapable of keeping a simple fire going. First, a retired diving champion carrying the torch on October 6 saw it blow out right as he was chugging through the Kremlin. Cue a moment of suspense while a bystander struggled to rekindle it with a cigarette lighter:

That regretful incident turned out to be a harbinger of d'ohs! to come, as time and time again the fire went poof. To date there have been 44 cases of "various troubles" with "defective" torches, according to a Google translation of this NEWSru story. (Yet somehow the torch made it to space?) Russia has blamed the wind and also an inept handler, but it's become clear that other culprits are lurking in the wings, namely the company that built the torches. When it asked manufacturer, Krasmash, what the deal is, Pravda basically got a "no comment," leading the news organization to wonder:

There are many questions to Krasmash indeed. The first one of them is why and on what criteria the company was selected by the Organizing Committee of Sochi for the manufacture of goods of national importance. We would also like to know if it is true that there were students invited to manufacture the torches for the promised fee of 1,000 rubles....

Krasmash produced 16,000 torches in total. It remains unknown if all of them were tested.

Perhaps it's something of a relief, then, that the latest Olympic-flame mishap wasn't the direct result of a glitchy torch. Rather, it seems the problem centered on an extra-flammable jacket. The accidental immolation occurred this week when bobsledder Pyotr Makarchuk was strutting through the south-central city of Abakan. Reports the Guardian:

Escorts immediately put out the flames and Makarchuk was not injured, said Roman Osin, spokesman for the Russian Sochi 2014 torch relay, who witnessed the incident on Wednesday.

The flames were caused by drops of liquid gas that fell on Makarchuk's jacket, he said.

Wait a second – actually, that does sound like another torch going kablooey:

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.