Feature: Belem's symbolic torch relay connects Olympic histories of France, Greece-Xinhua

Feature: Belem's symbolic torch relay connects Olympic histories of France, Greece

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2024-05-02 08:58:00

by sportswriter Xiao Yazhuo

PARIS, May 1 (Xinhua) -- In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games was inaugurated at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece, marking a new chapter in the history of world sports. In the same year, over 2,000 kilometers away, in the French port city of Nantes, a three-masted sailing ship named Belem was completed and embarked on its maiden voyage.

128 years later, with Paris set to host the Olympic Summer Games for the third time, the Olympic torch was passed from the Hellenic Olympic Committee to the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee at the renowned Panathenaic Stadium. The French, ever imaginative, decided to transport the torch back to France by sea, for the first time in the Games' history.

Belem was chosen as the carrier as the transfer of the torch links this historically significant sailing ship with the Olympics, serving as a testament to the friendship between Greece and France, two nations that have played pivotal roles in the history of modern Olympics.

"What a wonderful story," expressed the French Minister for Sport, Amelie Oudea-Castera, during the torch boarding ceremony at the Port of Piraeus in Athens last week. "This ship was born in 1896, the same year the Olympic Games were revived. As we all know, France and Greece have worked together in the re-establishment of the modern Olympics. The transfer of the torch via Belem is a reconnection of the two countries through the Olympics."

Belem is 51 meters long, excluding the 7-meter bowsprit, and has a maximum beam of 8.80 meters. Its three large masts reach a height of 58 meters, giving it a commanding presence on the water. The ship's first destination on its initial voyage was Brazil, and during this trip, a fire broke out onboard. Fortunately, the ship was promptly repaired and successfully reached Brazil.

In its early years, Belem was used as a cargo ship, transporting goods such as cocoa, rum, and sugar between France and other continents, and its legendary story continued. Belem avoided the disastrous eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902, which killed about 30,000 people in Martinique and almost destroyed the city of Saint-Pierre. On that day, the ship was supposed to dock at a port which was fully occupied, so it was forced to stop at another bay, sparing it from the catastrophe.

After several changes in ownership and roles - from a cargo ship to a private yacht, and later to a training ship - it was restored and returned to France in 1979. "It's even more coincidental that in just over one week, the Olympic torch will reach the port of Marseille, a city also originally founded by the Greeks along the Mediterranean coast. This makes Belem's voyage even more historically significant," said Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet.

Many French residents and tourists in Greece gathered at the site to see off the ship. The Giraldi family of four from southern France watched the handover ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium and went to the port the next morning to see the torch off.

"This summer, I will also take my family to watch the Olympics in Paris," said Giraldi. "We also look forward to the torch passing near my hometown, and I will be there to see it," he added.

The Olympic torch will arrive at Marseille on May 8 and begin its over two-month journey within France and overseas. On July 14, France's National Day, the torch will reach Paris, where it will continue its relay in the city and surrounding areas.

"This is a great voyage, from Greece to France, symbolizing the transmission of the Olympic spirit," Oudea-Castera said.

"We are in a complex and ever-changing world, where disagreements and even wars may arise. But since its inception, the Olympic movement has been associated with peace, and we hope that Belem, this ship carrying the Olympic torch, will also convey a message of peace to the world."

The Paris Olympic Games will open on July 26.