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Celebrations on River Seine as Olympic Torch is unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympics Organizing Committee President Tony Estanguet, left, passes the Olympic torch to former Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt,Tuesday, July 25, 2023 in Paris.
Paris 2024 Olympics Organizing Committee President Tony Estanguet, left, passes the Olympic torch to former Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt,Tuesday, July 25, 2023 in Paris. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with Agencies
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Residents of France and its overseas departments will be able to get a taste of Olympic fever by following the torch relay from May 8 next year until the opening ceremony. Then there are the hundred thousand lucky people who will get free access to that potentially stunning opening ceremony.

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The torch that will be used to carry the Olympic flame around France and on its final leg at the opening ceremony of the 2024 Paris Games next July is a sleek silver-coloured cylinder of recycled steel that is gracefully tapered at both ends and is being made in limited numbers to save resources.

Paris organizers unveiled French designer Mathieu Lehanneur's torch design Tuesday — part of a week of activities that mark the year-to-go countdown to the July 26 opening.

Organizers said 2,000 torches — five times fewer than for some previous editions of the Olympics — are being produced from recycled steel.

Each one weighs 1.5 kilograms and is 70 centimetres tall.

Paris is using the same torch design for both the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Once lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece, the flame will be transported by boat to the southern French city of Marseille.

The torch relay will start from there on May 8, with 10,000 torchbearers taking turns to carry it — the last of them lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremony.

Distinctively French

The chief organiser of the 2024 Paris Olympics, Tony Estanguet, has told AFP he can't wait for France to show the world what it can do when the Games open in spectacular fashion in a year's time.

Estanguet, a three-time Olympic gold medallist in canoeing, says excitement is building as Wednesday's one-year-to-go anniversary ticks up.

He will oversee a unique opening ceremony, taking the event out of its traditional stadium setting and onto a series of barges carrying the teams along the River Seine past the Eiffel Tower, watched by up to half a million people.

For Estanguet, 49, the ceremony will be the perfect opportunity to show the world that these Games have a distinctively French flair - "a little bit like the signature of Paris 2024".

"I made the Olympics four times and I felt this unique atmosphere in the countries where I participated in the Games," he told AFP in an interview in English.

"And I know the world my country is able to deliver also. And since day one, I'm really focused on how this country, France, is able to surprise the world, but also to demonstrate a new kind of Games delivery."

Estanguet said the model of Paris 2024 "is the best possible marriage between a spectacular Games, but also a Games with purpose, engaged".

"We really want to demonstrate that this is feasible, to have on one side spectacular emotions and unique emotions, but on the other side, a new kind of delivery, more responsible, more engaging also with people."

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Ambitious pledges

Efforts are being made to slash the carbon footprint compared to previous Olympics.

Another eye-catching pledge is that organisers say Paris will be the first time that male and female athletes are equally represented at an Olympics.

The preparations of the organising committee received a jolt last month when police raided its offices in an anti-corruption investigation into contracts awarded for the Games.

The homes of Etienne Thobois, the Chief Executive Officer of Paris 2024, and Edouard Donnelly, the executive director of operations, were also raided.

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Estanguet said: "Paris 2024 is probably one of the most regulated and monitored organisations since the beginning.

"We have been controlled (audited) by the Cour des Comptes (state spending watchdog) five times over the last three years, we have been controlled by France's anti-corruption body. We were investigated by the National Financial Prosecutor's Office recently.

"So far, no evidence of wrongdoing has been demonstrated. So let's have confidence that this team is doing its job in the best manner and I have confidence in the procedures and also in the team working and involved in Paris 2024."

No interview with an Olympics organiser can pass without grappling with the issue of tickets, a perennial bone of contention.

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There was criticism in France when tickets for athletics went on sale for nearly 700 euros ($775), but organisers argue that hundreds of thousands for other sports have been sold at the lowest price of 24 euros.

Seven million tickets have been sold already, out of a total 10 million.

"It is fantastic to know that there is that level of expectation," Estanguet said. "On the other side, of course, we also know that that's something we cannot match and there will not be enough tickets to answer this level of expectation."

He urges those not fortunate enough to have tickets to instead enjoy the Games from the fan zones that will be dotted around the city. "That's also a great way to feel this unique atmosphere."

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Residents of France and its overseas departments will be able to get a taste of Olympic fever by following the torch relay from May 8 next year until the opening ceremony.

Then there are the hundred thousand lucky people who will get free access to that potentially stunning opening ceremony.

Uniting the country

The first Olympic Games since the ebb of the COVID-19 pandemic open in a year in France’s capital. The 2024 Paris Games were partly born of attacks by Islamic extremists in 2015. 

The attacks persuaded Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo that bringing the Summer Olympics back to France’s capital for the first time in a century could unite the hurting nation. That need has rarely been more pressing. 

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The 10,500 Olympians and millions of visitors will flock next July to a country that has lurched from crisis to crisis since Paris was chosen as host in 2017.

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