Putin Launches Olympic Torch Relay

Leader says it 'will show the world Russia the way it is and the way we love it'

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Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the start of the Olympic torch relay in Moscow on Sunday, counting down to next year’s Winter Games in Sochi.

Declaring that “our shared dream is becoming reality,” Putin signaled the start of a 123-day, 40,000 mile torch relay that will take the flame to the North Pole and Outer Space before the Olympics begin in the Black Sea resort on Feb. 7, Reuters reports. But the relay got off to a rocky start when the flame briefly went out during the loop through the Kremlin — and a security guard had to relight it with a cigarette lighter, BBC reports.

The relay “will show the world Russia the way it is and the way we love it,” Putin told the crowd at Sunday’s ceremony, calling it a country of diverse people “united by common aims and by pride in their great homeland.”

The run-up to the Games has been clouded by controversy over a new Russian law that restricts the promotion of homosexuality, as well as allegations by rights groups that authorities have rounded up migrant workers who helped build the Games venues in Sochi.