Stage 41 – The European Community of Alsace and the Olympic Torch Relay celebrate Europe!

The Olympic Torch Relay continued its voyage through eastern France on Wednesday. This new day on the road had a distinctly European tone. In addition to putting the spotlight on the gems of Alsace, the Olympic Torch Relay also highlighted fraternity between peoples, such as Franco-German links, which were celebrated during an exceptional collective relay on the Three Countries Bridge in Huningue. A second collective relay organised by the French Federation of Judo took place in Strasbourg, before football legend Arsène Wenger lit the celebration cauldron at the end of the day.

The spotlight on Alsace and its shared history with Europe

The European Community of Alsace, created in 2021, boasts many identities. It is located at the crossroads of Europe and brings together different languages, cultures and heritage. It is a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation and embodies the European motto “united in diversity’, striving to ensure that this is achieved with serenity. It is also a region that is proud of its distinctive features and traditions, through its wine trails, Christmas markets, castles and famous storks.

In order to place the spotlight on the European Community of Alsace, the Olympic Torch Relay began its route in Mulhouse, passing in front of the Saint Etienne temple, which is the tallest protestant edifice in France. Afterwards, it headed to Huningue and its famous Passerelle des Trois Pays (three countries bridge), which crosses the Rhine between France, Switzerland and Germany, where a symbolic collective relay was organised by the French State. The Olympic Torch was then taken to Colmar, also known as “little Venice”. The relay passed along the cobbled streets of the town centre, illuminating the half-timbered houses and canals in bloom.
The journey continued in Marckolsheim and notably at the Jean-Jacques Waltz junior high school. It also highlighted two castles from different eras: Rohan Castle in Saverne, built between the 15th and 16th centuries, and Fleckenstein Castle whose ruins have resisted the onset of time since the 12th century. Afterwards, it was time to return to Strasbourg, the last part of the day’s stage. The route through the capital of Alsace highlighted the city’s European nature. The Olympic Torch Relay set out from the European Parliament and then passed in front of the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe. It also lit up the city’s covered bridges, the Grande île district, the Alsatian Museum and the Notre Dame gothic cathedral before finishing at Place Kléber, in the city’s heart, where the celebration venue was located.

Two collective relays rich in symbols and fraternity

With Europe as its theme, the day featured symbols and references to history, particularly in Huningue where a collective relay was dedicated to Franco-German friendship. The Passerelle des Trois Pays (three countries bridge), inaugurated in 2007, was the ideal place to celebrate the special links between these two countries, with the French State combining with the European Community of Alsace to organise the relay. It was made up of 24 mostly French and German young people, who were put forward by their senior high schools. Just before them, it was German Aline Rotter-Focken, an Olympic champion in wrestling, who passed the Olympic Torch to Frenchman Éric Kueny, the Land of the Games representative in Huningue.

Another collective relay took place in Strasbourg, dedicated, as each day, to a specific sport and on Wednesday judo enjoyed pride of place. The capital of Alsace is fertile land for this discipline, because a European tournament, European cups and training camps are often organised in the city. Among the 24 members of the French Federation of Judo who made their way up the Ruelle des Maroquins to Place de la Cathédrale were emerging hopes Ninon Lassal, the relay captain, and Léonie Girardey, who trains at the judo academy in Strasbourg, as well as the day’s youngest torchbearer Arthur Mehl, a 13-year-old green belt, but also Julie Fritz, runner-up in the French adapted sports championships, and Claude Paffenhoff, who is renowned for his longevity and exemplarity in the discipline.

Stars and inspiring members of the general public carry the Olympic Torch

160 torchbearers took it in turns to carry the Olympic Torch throughout the day. As on each stage, elite athletes who are making or have made history in French sport were present. The crowds in Alsace had the opportunity to cheer on Thierry Omeyer, the emblematic goalkeeper of the French handball team who won gold medals at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and in London in 2012, plus a silver medal in Rio in 2016. Amateur world champion in XTerra Triathlon (para-triathlon), Guillaume Jeannin was the first person of the day to carry the Olympic Torch, followed shortly after by Chloé Mislin, a para-sports horse rider, Marie-France Pieri, a specialist in 100-km races, Inène Podpovitny, a finalist in rowing at the Beijing Olympic Games, Yvette Palatino, a boxing champion who has contributed to gender diversity in the discipline, and Raphaël Votz, a four times medallist in para-shooting.

At the end of the day, one of the most well-known players in the world of sport from Strasbourg lit the celebration cauldron: Arsène Wenger. After a career as an outstanding defender with the city’s club from 1963 to 1981, he then went on to have a successful coaching career, particularly with Arsenal. He was one of the few coaches to have enjoyed a league season without defeat (in 2004) with the team including Thierry Henry, coach of the French Olympic team, and Patrick Vieira, the current coach of Strasbourg’s football team.

Arsène Wenger was not the only famous celebrity to have taken part in the celebrations this Wednesday. Singer M. Pokora was also present. He has recently become a shareholder of SIG, Strasbourg’s basketball club and is currently carrying out a major tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the start of his career. Additionally, influencer Crazy Sally, who boasts more than 1.2 million followers on the social networks, also carried the Olympic Torch.

As on each day, the Olympic Torch was also carried by torchbearers from the general public who all have inspiring life stories and paths. Such is the case for Constance Schaerer: for her charity, which supports children who have a parent with cancer, she has set herself the mission of climbing seven of the world’s highest peaks. She has already managed to climb three (Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Mont Blanc). Among the other torchbearers present were Yves Wansi, who works to promote accessibility for the visually impaired, Valérie Ruetsch, headmistress at a nursery school who uses the Olympic Games as a central theme for her teaching activities, and Nicolas Linder, a disabled globetrotter who has toured all around France on a tandem.

Tomorrow, the Olympic Torch Relay will hit the road again and make its way through the Moselle. From Meisenthal to Metz, it will once again showcase nature, heritage and all those who contribute to the area’s vitality.

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