Asia: Torch Relay Stage 48: Peace, Nature, and Sports in the Somme.

At the heart of the Paris-Brussels-London triangle, the Somme, with its legendary bay, its heritage and its cultural flair, is a destination like no other. This stage focused on peace, passing through the First World War memorials

One of the more than 150 Torchbearers was Jérémy Stravius, an Olympic swimming champion born in the department, who also lit the cauldron in Amiens. At the crossroads of Europe and history, the Somme lies in a triangle between Paris, Brussels and London. Its history is inextricably linked to that of Europe and the world, particularly through the impact of the two world wars, which forged lasting bonds with the Commonwealth.

The Somme attracts visitors all year round for its historical resonance and for its bay, a Grand Site of France. This area, home to colonies of grey seals, is a tourist magnet and a dynamic department with strong agricultural roots and a vibrant economic scene and a commitment to widespread sporting participation. With Paris 2024 around the corner, it is organising many activities, such as travelling sports villages, running events and fan zones.

Since Paris was awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Amiens conurbation has been a hive of activity, reflecting the enthusiasm of the 39 local authorities in the area that have been awarded the “Terres de Jeux” label. The Torch Relay has also put the spotlight on this dynamic university city, renowned for its exciting cultural scene and economic strength. The day began with French history in Villers-Bretonneux, where the Torch passed the military cemetery and the Sir John Monash Centre, which pays tribute to the ANZAC troops of the First World War. It continued to the 13th-century belfry in Abbeville and through the Parc de Samara in La Chaussée-Tirancourt. It also lit up the citadel of Doullens, the Art Deco façades of Albert and the medieval town of Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme.

The Torch lit up the iconic landmarks of Amiens, the ‘Little Venice of the North,’ whose reconstruction in the 1950s gave it a new lease of life, from Notre-Dame Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the country, to the Jardin des Plantes and the Jules Verne House. A Team Relay dedicated to field hockey took place on the esplanade of the Amiens Town Hall. Organised by the French Hockey Federation, it featured inclusive disciplines.

It was captained by Amiens adoptee Annemieke Fokke, a bronze medallist in Seoul 1988 who also competed in Barcelona in 1992. She was joined by Séverine Fernandez (wheelchair hockey), Véronique Valentin (president of the Picardy League), Marc-Antoine Bousemart (European referee) and Timothée Delavenne, former member of the French national team.

152 people took turns carrying  the Torch. The first was Adèle Lelong, known for her determination and big heart. Many athletes took part, such as Marie Collonville, who competed in the heptathlon at Athens and Beijing, and Matthieu Bataille, a former European judo champion who has turned to refereeing and will officiate in Paris. Also were Kamill Bousselham, a two-time breakdancing world champion, and Régis Gutner, a legend at Amiens SC.

The final Torchbearer was swimmer Jérémy Stravius from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. The London 2012 4x100m freestyle relay gold medallist and four-time world champion lit the cauldron in Amiens. The crowd applauded Joseph Mbongo Mbende (vice-president of the regional Para-sports Committee), Athos Felemou (US Métro volunteer), Bastien Keller (athletics) and Valentin Loth, a physical education teacher and ‘Generation 2024’ ambassador.

by Asia Hockey

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