Olympic Torch Relay - Loire and Saint-Etienne move to the beat of the Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch Relay —sponsored by Coca-Cola, Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne— pounded the tarmac in the Loire department throughout stage 38. The Coca-Cola concert held on the forecourt of the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium yesterday as part of the Fête de la Musique set the tone for an all-out celebration in Loire. The Olympic torch set out to explore the roads of the department this morning on a route that took it from Charlieu to Saint-Étienne with stopovers in Montbrison and Saint-Chamond. An adapted sports team relay got the ball rolling in Roanne, while the neighbourhood of the den of the AS Saint-Étienne football club in Saint-Étienne hosted the end-of-day celebrations. Over 150 relay runners shared their thrilling experience with the crowds lining the roads. Jean-Michel Larqué, a former footballer capped for France, lit the cauldron at the celebration venue!

A Coca-Cola concert strikes up the band

The festivities in Loire got under way yesterday evening, on the eve of the passage of the Olympic torch. Coca-Cola, one of the Official Partners of the Torch Relay, held a mind-blowing concert for 5,000 people in Saint-Étienne for the Fête de la Musique. It took place on the forecourt of the Geoffroy Guichard stadium, where the celebration venue was set up afterwards. Coke Studio presented an all-girl line-up consisting of the wildly popular Santa and Bianca Costa, who went on to carry the Olympic torch in Saint-Chamond today. Santa rose to fame two years ago with her EP 999, featuring the diamond-certified Popcorn Salé, which has been streamed over 100 million times worldwide. Meanwhile, Bianca Costa has emerged as the new diva of bossa nova, with a fusion of French rap and traditional Brazilian sounds. Her latest song, Immortal Queen, was a collaboration with Sia and Chaka Khan. Kami, a soul singer from Saint-Étienne, had earlier warmed up the crowds with her peerless talent. It was a tidal wave of emotions!

A lark between Roanne and Saint-Étienne

The Olympic torch set out this morning to discover an undulating corner of the world that exerts its magnet pull on athletes throughout the year. Skiers flock to the department in the winter, while cyclists take to its roads as soon as temperatures start to go up. Foodies are also spoilt for choice in Loire, with a multitude of flavours ranging from cheeses with character to the famous Duculty dry sausage.

The Olympic torch got the action going in Roanne, where it visited landmarks such as the town’s historic squares —Place des Promenades Populle and Place Louis Flandre— before heading to the banks of the Loire. It shone a light on several iconic sites in the department, including the Benedictine Charlieu Abbey, Saint Eugenia’s Chapel and the Jardin d’Allard in Montbrison, not to mention the horse racecourse in Feurs, known and loved by horse racing enthusiasts.

In Saint-Chamond, a place known for its medieval remains, the Olympic torch blazed past the modern Arena Saint-Étienne Métropole, the Théâtre de Verdure and Place de la Liberté. In Firminy, it absolutely had to visit the Unité d’Habitation by Le Corbusier and Château des Bruneaux.

It was time to move on to Saint-Étienne, the terminus of the stage. The Olympic torch went through Cour Fauriel, zipped past the Museum of Art and Industry and the Museum of Mining and took a breather at the Cité du Design to highlight the role of Saint-Étienne within the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. The last few segments took place at the Geoffroy Guichard stadium, the temple of football where Les Verts have made fans dream for generations. 

Over 150 torchbearers throughout the stage

The last relay runner of the day returned to his old hunting grounds. Jean-Michel Larqué, a towering figure of the golden age of Saint-Étienne, lit the cauldron in front of an adoring crowd in a moment packed with emotions and symbolism. An iconic midfielder for Les Verts from 1966 to 1977 and part of the squad that propelled the club to the European Cup final in 1976, he was also a key player of the French national team. In the course of his career, he was also part of the Les Bleus team that reached the quarter-finals in the 1968 Olympic Games.

Among the more than 150 torchbearers were numerous athletes, such as Mélina Robert-Michon, an Olympic silver medallist in the discus throw who holds the French record and is set to take part in a new edition of the Games in Paris. There was also Mattéo Ruberti, the French paratriathlon champion; Coraline Juvanon, a silver medallist in the team event at the French equestrianism championship; Corine Cucchiara, the veteran world judo champion; and Ambre Dusautier, who shone in the swimming event at the World Transplant Games.

They were joined by sport buffs such as Aurélie Lefevre, a diehard paraglider; Max Bouchet-Virette, who has worked for a great deal of sporting events, including the Albertville Games and multiple football and rugby world cups; and the 73-year-old Yves Laval, a unique character who has entered 275 triathlons and duathlons throughout his life and won the French championship thrice but still continues to practise the sport!

Quite a few torchbearers had mightily inspiring personal backgrounds, no matter their age and preferences. The Olympic torch was carried by the 11-year-old Isaac Djeroro, elected to the Givors youth municipal council; Mourad Abdellaoui, who works tirelessly to drive forward Prader–Willi syndrome research; and Mélanie Volle, the oldest torchbearer of the stage at 102 years old, who deserved the admiration of every man and woman for her fight against Austrofascism and her role in the French resistance.

 Adapted sport in the spotlight

Another Torch Relay stage, another team relay. The French Adapted Sports Federation (FFSA), which works to promote and facilitate physical activity and sport among people with physical or mental disabilities, organised today’s instalment in Roanne. A myriad sporting events of this kind have been held since 1983 with the backing of the FFSA. Each of the 24 relay runners embodies a discipline. For example, the relay captain, Nicolas Virapin, is a disabled athlete who won four gold medals at the 2019 Global Games (a competition for people with mental disabilities). Joining him were the dancer, swimmer and pétanque player Sophie Kirk, the star swimmer and cross-country skier Clément Colomby and Thomas Bay, who claimed a medal in the French para-skiing championship.

A special stage awaits tomorrow. The Olympic torch will weave its way through Haute-Savoie in a historic day packed with symbolism. It will be an opportunity to mark the centennial of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 and celebrate Olympic Day with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games just 33 days away. A host of champions will rise to the occasion, including many athletes who have flown the flag for France in winter sports. Sunday cannot come soon enough!

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