Torch Relay Stage 7: Pyrénées-Orientales. PARIS 2024

The Olympic Torch Relay has been travelling the roads of France for a week now, and on Wednesday the Pyrénées-Orientales département took centre stage. The Catalans, who have kept the tradition of the Canigó Flame alive since time immemorial, waited with bated breath for the arrival of the Olympic torch in their region.

From the top of the Canigó to Font-Romeu and Collioure, the seventh day was a kaleidoscopic experience that reflected the illuminated landscapes. Fanny Horta, French Rugby Sevens champion and Tokyo 2020 silver medallist, lit the cauldron in her home town of Perpignan to close the jorney. 

The stage began with a powerful image: Laurent Satabin, a departmental civil servant who works every day to engage young people and promote sport, and Thibaut Vidal, who has volunteered with an American football team for over a decade, raised the Paris 2024 torch aloft on the summit of Canigó, 2,784 metres above sea level, as the sun peeked over the horizon. 

The lighting of the torch was an echo of another genuine Catalan tradition, the Canigó Flame, which is used to light the bonfires lit on the night of San Juan. Throughout the year, this flame burns on the Castillet in Perpignan, before being taken to the top of the Canigó on Saint John's Eve. It was a fiery meeting between these two "torch relay" traditions, each with its own symbolism. 

The Olympic Torch reached the ancient fortified town of Prades and set off for the Catalan Pyrenees Natural Park. Around midday, the torch visited Céret and continued to the lake at Villeneuve-de-la-Raho, a reservoir and a paradise for outdoor activities. 

The final section of the day took the riders along the Mediterranean coast and into Perpignan, passing through the Parc des Sports, the Citadel, the Place de Catalogne and the Quartier Clémenceau on the way to the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca, where the crowds turned out in force for another day of celebrations. 

Stage 7 was a wonderful celebration of sport, with the French Pentathlon Federation organising a team relay in Font-Romeu, a well-known venue for French athletes training at altitude. Didier Boubé, a bronze medallist in the team event in Los Angeles in 1984, led a team of 24 die-hard enthusiasts in a demonstration of the different disciplines that make up this combined event. 

Among them were Coline Flavin, a gold medallist in the mixed relay at the last World Championships, Brice Lopez, a keen promoter of ancient sports through his organisation Acta, and Léon Vandenboore, an avid practitioner of the modern pentathlon. 

The Torch Relay also highlighted a number of inspiring stories. One of the protagonists of the day was Thierry Jean Solignac, a sports enthusiast who has never let his rheumatoid arthritis stop him from doing his favourite activities, such as trail running and cycling. In 2023, he even reached the summit of Mont Blanc with his son. Léa Delcroix, a film student, dreams of having her work recognised at the César Awards. 

Ophélie Portal, founder of the Combat Louise charity, helps sick children thanks to the donations her husband receives from his triathlons. An accident left Camille Joffrin a paraplegic at the age of 16, but she is passionate about sport and actively participates in the APF France Handicap. 

The crowd saw more familiar faces, such as Major Mouvement, one of France's most famous physiotherapists, who uses social media to show people the ins and outs of his profession and explain health. Perrine Laffont made history as the first French woman to win a gold medal in mogul skiing. 

The next stop is Aude, a diverse département with a rich historical heritage. The Flame will visit the remains of the castle of Peyrepertuse, pause on the sandy shores of Gruissan for a team relay on the waves, and end the day in the heart of the citadel of Carcassonne.