Beautiful place to discover. Solemn and steeped in history. The Paris 2024 OCOG chose the Sorbonne, in the Latin Quarter, to unveil the Olympic torch relay route on Friday June 23. It’s a way of keeping one foot in the past, despite an endlessly repeated desire to “break the mould“.
For the most part, the key dates were already known. The torch was lit on April 16 in Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Games. Then a nine-day tour of Greece, before a handover ceremony on April 26 at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium in Athens. The following day, boarding aboard the Belem, the historic three-masted ship loaned by the Caisse d’Epargne. Arrival on May 8 in Marseille, the relay’s home town and venue for the Olympic sailing events.
The figures, too, had already been stripped of the “confidential” seal. Ten thousand torchbearers, renamed “forerunners” for reasons that are unclear, if not the Parisian organizers’ obsession with never doing things the same way as the others. Of these, almost a third (3,000) will be trotting in teams, in relays of 24 runners. Each section will cover around 200 metres, or 4 minutes of what is presumed to be an unforgettable slice of life.
That left the most important thing: the route. The first lesson of the day was that it was strictly French. The OCOG abandoned – or never entertained – the idea mooted for a moment of taking a detour to Italy, host country of the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games.
Franco-French, then, but not totally hexagonal. The Olympic Flame will take to the islands for overseas stops in Polynesia, Martinique, Reunion, Guadeloupe and French Guiana.
The route will cross 64 territories, from the start on May 8 in Marseille to the final finish on July 26 in Paris. All in all, 68 effective days of wandering, with the COJO having planned a few rest days here and there, in the style of the Tour de France cycling race.
Sixty-five stopover towns have been selected, mostly the biggest population centers. But more than 400 French towns will be visited. Each evening, the flame will burn in a different location, in most cases in an urban setting. However, the COJO has reserved a handful of exceptions to these city overnight stays, to lay the torch to rest in so-called exceptional sites. Mont-Saint-Michel, for example.
At the end of the day, the flame will be laid to rest, accompanied by a sequence of celebrations. At the helm will be the relay’s two sponsors, the BPCE banking group and Coca-Cola. Eight concerts are scheduled during the journey.
In detail, the flame will remain in mainland France from May 8 to June 7. It will then take a second boat, the maxi Banque Populaire, much faster and more modern than the Belem, to reach the French overseas territories. At the helm will be the usual skipper, Armel Le Cléac’h. Alongside him will be a crew, each member of which has been carefully selected for his or her record of service and connection with the Olympic Games. Jean Galfione, gold medallist in the pole vault at the Atlanta Games in 1996, now a professional sailor, seems to be a must.
What’s next? Back in France on June 18, in Nice. Five days later, a stop in Haute-Savoie to celebrate Olympic Day in Chamonix, host of the 1924 Winter Games. Arrival in Ile-de-France on July 14, the French national holiday. Then, after two days outside the Paris region, in the Oise and Aisne regions, a long final sprint to Ile-de-France, between July 19 and 26.
Over more than two months, the flame will not only cross the 64 territories that have each paid 150,000 euros ex-VAT to appear on the map (the total sum covers a third of a budget estimated at 30 million euros). It will be a successful blend of France’s history, culture and historical and cultural heritage.
A few examples? The castles of the Loire Valley, the medieval city of Carcassonne, the Châteaux de Versailles for history, the vineyards of Bordeaux for gastronomy, Mont Blanc and the Pic du Midi for natural beauty, the Palais des Festivals in Cannes for glamour, the Louvre-Lens for culture, the Kourou space base in French Guiana for high-tech industry.
Anecdotal but prudent: the flame will be accompanied at all times by a discreet battalion of a dozen people charged with its protection. “They’ll make sure it never goes out, and sleep with it,” says the COJO. The guardians of the flame.