Russia on Saturday took the Olympic flame into its scenic lake Baikal, the world’s deepest body of fresh water, in the latest dramatic torch relay ahead of the Sochi Winter Games.
State television showed a torchbearer in a helmet propelled over the surface of the lake in a jet-powered backpack. He then passed the flame to a man in full diving gear with a special water-resistant torch.
The flame, turning into a bright pink flare, was shown disappearing into the dark depths of Baikal, a long lake straddling two Siberian regions that contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. Russian news agencies said three divers reaching the bottom of a shallower part of the lake completed a relay handover underwater, after which the flame returned to shore.
The lake at its deepest point is 1,642 metres. The Olympic organising committee said later the divers descended to a depth of 13 metres. The Irkutsk region’s town Listvyanka, where the dive took place, currently has temperatures of minus three degrees Celcius. Russia hosts the games in its Black Sea resort of Sochi in February. The event has already broken records in terms of the costs of its preparation, with a total budget of more than $50 billion (36 million euros).
The flame has already traveled to easternmost Russia and as far north as the North Pole as Russia uses the event to showcase its geographical expanse and technological prowess — even sending one of the unlit Olympic torches into space earlier this month. On Friday the relay went to Russia’s Buddhist region of Buryatia where monks took the torch around their sacred temple in the direction of the sun, according to organisers. The flame’s next notable destination is the top of Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe located in Russia’s North Caucasus. It will then light the Olympic cauldron in Sochi on February 7, 2014.