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Moscow (AFP) – Russian torchbearers set off Monday on history’s longest Olympic torch relay ahead of February’s Winter Games in Sochi, which will take the flame across the country and even put it on a deer sleigh.

In a Red Square ceremony, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin lit a torch from the flame that arrived from Athens on Sunday, passing it to Anastasiya Davydova, a synchronised swimming champion, who began jogging through flying confetti.

The flame will spend two days in the Russian capital before it is taken southeast to its next destination Kolomna, an ancient city in the Moscow region.

Russia is hosting an elaborate relay through all 83 of its regions, including extreme locales such as Chukotka, the remote region in Russia’s Far East, the turbulent North Caucasus, and even Russia’s European exclave Kaliningrad.

As part of the relay, the flame will sail on a nuclear-powered icebreaker to the North Pole, dive into the world’s deepest freshwater lake, Baikal, and ascend Europe’s highest peak on Mount Elbrus.

One kilometre of the 65,000 kilometre (40,000 mile) journey from Athens to the Black Sea resort Sochi, where the Games begin on February 7, will be done by deer sleigh, organizers said.

Russian authorities even mulled the idea of sending the flame into space.

The plan was discarded out of safety concerns, but an unlit Olympic torch will blast off to the International Space Station on November 7, where two Russian cosmonauts will take it for a space walk before its return to Earth on November 11.


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