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PARIS2024

Stage 28 – Olympic Torch Relay: the gems of French Guiana illuminated by the Olympic Torch!

Credit:Paris2024

After a month of making its way through mainland France, the Olympic Torch Relay arrived in French Guiana this Sunday to begin the chapter of the Ocean Relay. As a result, French Guiana became the first French overseas territory to welcome the Olympic Torch, for the first time in its history. It was a day with a wealth of symbols and breathtaking images, from the Amazon rainforest to the Atlantic coast, placing the spotlight on the beauty of the landscapes, heritage and local sources of pride, such as the space centre in Kourou. The French Federation for judo organised the day’s collective relay and many local celebrities took on the role of torchbearer, such as Lucie Décosse, Alicia Aylies and also Malia Metella, who lit the celebration cauldron at the end of the day in Cayenne.

Discovering the treasures of French Guiana

The Olympic Torch Relay is continuing its journey to meet as many people as possible to open the celebrations of the Games. The overseas territories, which contribute so much to making France tick thanks to their champions, cultures and histories, are an integral part of the celebration. The first of them to enjoy the honour of welcoming the Olympic Torch was French Guiana, the only French land in South America. With a total surface area of 84,000 m2, it is the largest French overseas territory, located between the Amazon rainforest and the Atlantic coast. It boasts an exceptional variety of landscapes and a rich historical heritage, which the Olympic Torch Relay endeavoured to highlight throughout the day.

The relay began the day in Camopi, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. It was lit on completion of an Amerindian ceremony rich in symbolism before boarding a pirogue and heading down the Oyapock River. The Olympic Torch was taken to Saint-Laurent du Maroni, infamous for being the site of the Transportation, a former penal colony created in the 17th century and now a listed historical monument. Its visit to this place steeped in history was symbolically powerful, especially since the festivities to mark the abolition of slavery, proclaimed by decree on 10th June 1948, will take place on Monday.

In the heart of the space centre in Kourou

The Olympic Torch was then taken to a venue which is a source of pride for the Guianese: the space centre in Kourou. Since it was created in 1964, it has been a strategic assembly point supervised by the European Space Agency, from which rockets are launched, notably the Ariane and Vega models, as well as satellites made by operators from all over the world. The Olympic Torch passed in front of the imposing model of the Ariane V rocket before moving down the road on which the European flags flutter in the wind.

The route then headed to Saint-Georges-de-l’Oyapock where it took a nautical detour on the Oyapock River, which forms the natural border with Brazil. It also took in the centre of Kourou, the Plage de la Cocoteraie beach, Tonate-Macouria, from the church to the festival grounds, then Matoury, where it was taken to the Lucie Décosse martial arts centre, named after the Olympic champion in London 2012, who also carried the Olympic Torch today. Finally, the relay finished in the capital Cayenne, which combines French, Brazilian and West Indian influences. After a visit to the aquatic centre, the Chaînes brisées slavery memorial monument and the Fort Cépérou hill, it reached the celebration venue at Place des Palmistes.

French Guiana’s champions in the spotlight

To celebrate this historical day, 124 torchbearers took it in turns to carry the Olympic Torch throughout the day. Nicolas Chaumier, a sports coach heavily involved in clubs in Camopi, was the first of the day. Many local champions came together to join the celebrations, such as judoka Lucie Décosse, athlete Christiane Johnny, the first French Guianese champion in the 100 metres, and Riquel Bruno, a former elite level long jumper. Other athletes currently distinguishing themselves were also present, including Danis Civil, who will represent France at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in break dancing, and Kayssia Hudson, an emerging French Guianese star in the triple jump. They all carried the Olympic Torch as did Alicia Aylies, who was Miss France in 2017 and is now a very popular singer in French Guiana. At the end of the day in Cayenne, it was Malia Metella, a silver medallist in the 50 metres freestyle at the Athens Games, who lit the celebration cauldron at the celebration venue in front of enthusiastic crowds.

Like them, many torchbearers from the general public with inspiring stories to tell carried the Olympic Torch. As a result, in Kourou, the spectators gave warm applause to Mireille Jauregui, a French Guianese pirogue enthusiast for over 10 years, and Lili Piquemal, an emerging young runner and trail athlete. In Cayenne, they were able to watch the relay carried out by Émilie William, a key figure in local women’s football, and Yann Dejou, the inventor of tandem para-kiting and the creator of a kitesurf club.

Pride of place for judo on the collective relay

As on each stage, a collective relay took place, organised today by the French Federation for Judo at French Guiana’s territorial community centre. It was an opportunity to put the spotlight on all those involved in judo, but also related disciplines such as jujitsu and kendo. François Pina, a coach for more than 20 years at the martial arts school in Cayenne as well as a key figure in judo in the country, was the collective relay’s captain. Alongside him were 23 other judokas, including the eldest, Serge Antourel, and the youngest, Enzo Fils Aime (13 years old), as well as a young referee learning the ropes, Coralie Nicholls.

On completion of this very colourful day in French Guiana, the Ocean Relay is just beginning. On Wednesday 12th June, the Olympic Torch will light up La Réunion in the Indian Ocean for the first time in its history. It will be another opportunity to take in the sights, from Saint-Paul to Saint-Denis via the Pointe de Langevin cape, the southernmost point of Europe.