Stage 44 - Olympic Torch Relay - Peace, nature and rowing take centre stage in Meuse!

It was another day fraught with symbolism, jaw-dropping views and emotions. The Olympic Torch Relay —sponsored by Coca-Cola, Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne— shined a light on this verdant corner of the world and its bountiful nature, including spots such as the amazing Lac de Madine. It also took the time to appreciate history near the remembrance sites that have turned Verdun into the capital of peace and reconciliation, two core tenets of Olympism. The highlight of the stage was a rowing team relay in the Meuse river. The three-time world judo champion Amandine Buchard ignited the celebration cauldron at the end of the day. 

Where nature meets history

The Olympic torch continues its scenic journey through the heart of metropolitan France, showcasing the natural beauty and heritage that define these regions. Today’s stop in the Meuse department was a fine addition to the collection, as the area is a stunning green oasis. This department, with 37% forest coverage, also boasts the expansive Lac de Madine, which spans 1,100 hectares. Meuse is home to 250 sensitive natural areas and 2,400 bodies of water. It has something for all outdoor sports enthusiasts, from hikers and runners to cyclists. Its numerous trails are a favourite, and it is not uncommon for Tour de France cyclists to stop here.

The Olympic torch’s visit to Verdun was a natural choice. The city symbolises peace, universality and unity —values dear to Olympism. Verdun, where the foundations of European history were laid with the Treaty of Verdun in 843, also evokes the hardships and scars of the First World War with its battlefields and underground citadel. At the same time as it keeps the flame of remembrance burning for the benefit of every generation, the city looks towards the future. As a “Terre de Jeux” label holder, Verdun strives to promote sport through community-building projects that bring people together and cut across differences. 

Focus on the rich tapestry of the Meuse department

Before reaching Verdun in the late afternoon, the Olympic torch began its journey in Gondrecourt-le-Château, a favourite spot among athletes for its tranquillity. It passed the Lorraine Horse Museum and continued its cultural tour by illuminating the Château de Commercy and showcasing the Renaissance heritage of Bar-le-Duc. En route between these towns, the Olympic torch travelled along the shores of Lac de Madine, highlighting a nearby beach and the quaint port of Nonsard.

It also made a stop in Montmédy, casting its glow on the 16th-century citadel, but Verdun was the pièce de résistance of the rest of the stage. There, it shone at the Memorial, which commemorates the 300,000 people who laid down their lives on this battlefield, explored the underground citadel constructed by Vauban and reinforced during World War I, and visited the Monument to Victory and Soldiers, a towering 30-metre-high landmark overlooking the city. The tour included the sports facilities of Verdun, including a visit to the Pré-L’évêque leisure area, the banks of the Meuse and the Parc de Londres sports complex, where the celebration venue was set up.

Rowing makes a splash in the Meuse in Verdun

A few hours before the lighting of the cauldron, the focus was on the banks of the Meuse for the rowing team relay. Rowing has been an Olympic sport since 1900. France has cemented its status as a powerhouse of the discipline with 35 Olympic and 5 Paralympic medals. Benjamin Rondeau, a former international rower who took bronze in Beijing 2008 and now works as a musician and educator, captained the team relay.

The 24 torchbearers, gliding in their rowing boats, passed significant landmarks such as Place de la Libération and the Monument to Victory. The line-up included Pierre Houin, an Olympic champion in Rio 2016 and triple world champion; Frédéric Kowal, a bronze medallist in Atlanta 1996; Jean-Raymond Peltier, the head of the French national rowing teams; and Marion Julien, who presides over the club founded by her father four decades ago.

Athletes and celebrities committed to the cause join the relay

A hundred torchbearers or took turns carrying the Olympic torch before and after the team relay. The first torchbearer of the day was Julie Bogaert, dedicated to introducing horse riding to young people and those with disabilities. High-profile athletes also participated throughout the day, including former stars such as Sébastien Serriere, a para-cyclist who has competed in the Games twice, and Abdelkader Kenane, a runner who has raced globally, from the Great Wall of China to Moscow.

They were joined by current athletes such as Manon Roels, a two-time French para badminton champion; Sébastien Roche, who at nearly 50 years old is competing in the kayaking world championships; and Nina Rinaldi, a para swimmer with the local club in Verdun. Alongside them, dozens of individuals carried the Olympic torch to honour their dedication and achievements. Joëlle Huguin, for example, has devoted her life to improving living conditions in Madagascar. Through her charity, Mamonjy-Madagascar, she has helped build schools, wells and water supply systems in the country. Others work day in, day out to promote sports for all, such as Jacqueline Bauchot, who founded a handball club in Kœnigsmacker, and Florian Varoteau, a co-founder of Alfonsport, which beats the drum for new sports practices. The final torchbearer of the day, Amandine Buchard, is a three-time world judo champion and medallist in the Tokyo Games.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a new serving of sport, enthusiastic people and inspiring stories as the Olympic torch heads to the Marne, nestled in the home of champagne. The journey will continue on the road from Vitry-le-François to Reims, where more than 150 torchbearers writing a new chapter of this gripping saga!

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