The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremony is getting closer and closer, and the distance separating the Olympic Train from its final destination – the Sochi Railway Terminus – is also shrinking. Right now, the Olympic Flame is touring the cities of Southern Russia.

January 17 — Belgorod

The Olympic Torch Relay arrived in Belgorod last Friday. Fedor Emelyanenko, multiple-times heavyweight mixed martial arts world champion, four-times world and seven-times Russian combat-style sambo champion. Incidentally, even royalty participated in the Belgorod section of the Torch Relay – Belgian prince Hadrien de Croÿ-Roeulx, among others, carried the Olympic Torch. The Olympic Flame passed by the Belgorod State University, the Svetlana Khorkina Sports Complex, and stopped at the monument to Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir the Great, who founded the city. Olympic basketball champion Sergey Tetyukhin lit the Olympic Cauldron at the evening celebration.

January 18 — Voronezh

Distinguished athletes were given the honor to carry the Olympic Flame through the streets of Voronezh, including Irina Makogonova, a 1980 Moscow volleyball Olympic Champion, and Viktoria Komova, a London silver medalist in artistic gymnastics. Riding Coach Irina Smirnova rode her segment of the Torch Relay mounted on a pure-bred Orel trotter. Torchbearers visited the Admiralty and Peter the Great Waterfronts, the Crimson Sails Park, passing through possibly the Voronezh street of the greatest nationwide fame – Lizyukova Street, made famous by the sweet late 1980s cartoon about a kitten who wanted to grow big. In fact, the grateful Voronezh residents even put up a monument dedicated to the popular cartoon character, at which the Olympic Flame Relay made a stop.

January 19 — Uryupinsk

The Torch Relay arrived in Uryupinsk – a city that has become the common name for a Russian provincial town – on the Orthodox Epiphany Day. However, against all expectations, Uryupinsk was not at all provincial, and had sites and landmarks well worth seeing. For example, it has the one-of-a-kind monument to a nurturing goat. Torchbearers got on ATVs to ride one of the Relay segments through Uryupinsk, stopping over to dive into a hole in the ice.

January 20 — Volgograd

On the following day, the Olympic Flame was greeted by residents of Volgograd. The Coca-Cola Volzhsky Bottling Plant hosted one of the segments of the Relay in Volgograd. Renowned track-and-field athlete Elena Isinbaeva, born and raised in Volgograd, was a guest of honor of the Torch Relay. Other Torchbearers included regional governor Sergey Bozhenov, Olympic kayaker and canoeist Maxim Opalev, Olympic figure skating champion Maxim Marinin. The Olympic Flame was also taken underground in Volgograd: Torchbearer Mikhail Kirichenko carried it from Profspyuznaya Station to TYuZ Station on the local subway. After that, President of the Night Wolves biker club Alexander Zaldostanov took over the Relay; he had already carried the Olympic Flame on a motorbike back in October when the Flame had just arrived on the Russian soil. One of the most spectacular and memorable moments of the Olympic Torch Relay in Volgograd were the stops at the Battle of Stalingrad Diorama and the Mamayev Kurgan Memorial.

January 21 — Shakhty and Novocherkassk

On the following day, the Torch Relay crossed into the Rostov Region, stopping over first at Shakhty, a city renowned as the birthplace of many athletes, including medalists and champions. One of the Torch Relay segments followed the Olympic Champions Promenade. On the same day, the Olympic Flame arrived in Novocherkassk, the capital of the Russian Cossack movement. Novochrrkassk Cossack Host Leader, Ataman Andrey Demchenko, carried the Olympic Flame here.

January 22 — Rostov-on-Don

The weather just before the arrival of the Olympic Torch Relay was not very accommodating: the city saw snow flurries the night before, which turned to freezing rain on the morning of the Relay. However, the sun came out just before the lighting of the Olympic Torch, and frozen ice pellets suddenly stopped coming down from the sky. The Olympic Flame was carried down Rostov’s Sholokhov Avenue in a grain harvester manufactured at the city’s farming equipment factory, the Rostselmash. Torchbearers also visited the local Coca-Cola bottling plant as well as passing by all the historical and cultural landmark of this major southern Russian city. The Rostov-on-Don leg of the Torch Relay came to a grand finale in the Teatralnaya Square, where a memorable Olympic show was staged for all city residents.

The Olympic Flame Relay is almost at an end. Look for more news on the Relay in our posts.