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Sochi Olympic torch relay begins trek to North Pole

Oct 15, 2013, 9:57 AM EDT

Over the next two weeks, the Olympic flame will journey to and from the North Pole.

One of the most ambitious parts of the Sochi Olympic torch relay has started, according to Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko.

The flame is aboard Russian icebreaker ship “50 years of victory” and will travel more then 3,000 miles from Murmansk, Russia, to the North Pole for a lighting ceremony and back to Murmansk.

Among the torch bearers for the North Pole trip is an American, University of Alaska Fairbanks Vice Chancellor Pat Pitney. Pitney, 48, won a gold medal in shooting at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“It is humbling to be selected to represent the United States, Alaska, the Arctic, UAF and the Olympic movement,” Pitney said in a press release, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Imagine, carrying the Olympic torch around the North Pole; I am so excited.”

Torch bearers before the North Pole trip included those who carried torches during the Moscow 1980 Olympic torch relay.

A torch — but not the flame — is expected to go into space and reach the International Space Station in November.

The torch design has been tweaked for the space mission to prevent it from slipping out of a bearer’s grip during a spacewalk, according to R-Sport.

An unlit torch with an extra tether attached is to be carried into open space by cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, during which time it will orbit Earth several times, said the head of the Cosmonauts’ Training Center Sergei Krikalev.

“The Olympic torch for space is just like the one for Earth, but there will be no gas in it,” he said.

“To take it into open space the object was reworked: An extra fixing element has been added to attach a tether to, just so it doesn’t happen to fly away,” Krikalev added.

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