ASTRAKHAN, January 26, 4:44 /ITAR-TASS/. The Sochi Olympic torch that continues its march across Russia is arriving in Astrakhan, a city on the Volga River, at noon on Sunday. A 20-kilometer-long run on the city’s historical streets will start at Astrakhan’s central stadium. Cannons will fire in the white-walled Astrakhan Kremlin to salute the Olympic torch while an ethnical display will be put on view at the Astrakhan Opera and Ballet Theatre.
“Coach Dmitry Slashchev, a former handball player, will ride a camel holding the torch in his hands. After that, the torch will fly in a royal carriage escorted by paramount Cossacks and will be carried in local sleighs known as ‘chunki’,” Oleg Dementyev, the regional minister of sport and tourism, told Itar-Tass.
‘Chunki’ are self-made short sledges with skates instead of sledge runners, which are operated with the help of iron rods. Riding ‘chunki’ on river ice is the most favorite pastime for the people of Astrakhan every winter. This local winter entertainment appeared more than a century ago and is still popular.
A ‘chunki’ sledge has been painted in Olympic colors especially for the Astrakhan lap of the Olympic torch relay race. The sledge has been equipped with tap-lights. The torch will be reliably fixed when a torch bearer will skate with it on ice.
“We are ready for all whims of weather. If it gets warm, we are going to make artificial ice!” Oleg Dementyev said.
A total of 112 torch bearers will run with the torch in Astrakhan. They include Honored Artist of Russia Anastasiya Zavorotnyuk, a native of Astrakhan; Russian Children’s Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov; the winners and medalists of Summer Olympic Games as well as art workers, doctors, bloggers and journalists.
Yelena Shalamova, the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games winner in rhythmic gymnastics group exercises, will light the Olympic flame at the Zvyozdnyi sport complex in Astrakhan. Representatives of over a hundred nationalities live in the multi-ethnic Astrakhan region. To make them feel involved in the Olympic Games, the whole ceremony will be broadcast on street monitors, in trade centers and in the Internet.
More than 50,000 people, including over 500 from nearby villages, are going to watch the Olympic torch relay race. More than 2,000 artists will take part in the festivities and 500 volunteers will be mobilized to arrange the celebrations. From Astrakhan, the Olympic torch will travel to Dagestan.
The Sochi-2014 Olympic flame relay race started in Moscow on October 7, 2013. It is supposed to cover over 65,000 kilometers and visit 2,900 populated localities. The Olympic torch relay race will finish at the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Sochi on February 7.