The Olympic torch is being welcomed in French port city of Marseille with fanfare and high security

MARSEILLE, France — MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Paris Games organizers have promised “fantastic” celebrations as the arrival of a majestic ship carrying the Olympic torch from Greece is expected to draw a huge crowd Wednesday in the southern French city Marseille, where the Old Port has been placed under high security.

Paris 2024 Olympics Organizing Committee President Tony Estanguet expressed his emotion at the torch’s arrival in France.

“The return of the Games to our country will be a fantastic celebration,” he said.

The torch was lit in Greece last month before it was officially handed to France. It left Athens aboard a three-mast ship named Belem, which was first used in 1896, and spent twelve days at sea.

More than a thousand boats will accompany the Belem’s parade around the Bay of Marseille. The ship will then dock on a pontoon that looks like an athletics track in the Old Port.

The welcoming ceremony will include a demonstration by the jets of the Patrouille de France, the acrobatic team of the French air force.

“As a former athlete, I know how important the start of a competition is. That is why we chose Marseille, because it’s definitely one of the cities most in love with sports,” said Estanguet, a former Olympic canoeing star with gold medals from the 2000, 2004 and 2012 Games.

Olympic swimmer Florent Manaudou has been chosen to be the first carrier of the flame in France. Manaudou won four Olympic medals and he’s the brother of swimmer Laure Manaudou, who won three Olympic medals at Athens in 2004.

“We are extremely proud,” Marseille mayor Benoît Payan said. “This is where it all begins.”

The show will “dazzle the world,” said Payan, adding that up to 150,000 spectators are expected in the Old Port.

Marseille people “have a sense of celebration, a sense of the game, sport and Olympism in their guts,” he said, recalling that the city was founded by Greek colonists some 2,600 years ago.

Payan said all efforts have been made to ensure security underwater, at sea, in the air and on the ground.

Heavy police and military presence was seen patrolling Marseille’s city center Tuesday, as a military helicopter flew over the Old Port, where a wide range of barriers have been set up.

“There are various security threats that weigh on this event,” the biggest being “the terrorist threat,” French Interior Ministry spokesperson Camille Chaize said.

“We’re employing various measures, notably the elite National Gendarmerie Intervention Group unit, which will be present in the torch relay from beginning to end,” she said.

The torch relay will start Thursday in Marseille, before heading to Paris through iconic places across the country, from the world-famous Mont Saint-Michel to D-Day landing beaches in Normandy and the Versailles Palace.

The Olympic cauldron will be lit after the Games’ opening ceremony that will take place on the River Seine on July 26.

The cauldron will be lit at a location in Paris that is being kept top-secret until the day itself. Among reported options are such iconic spots as the Eiffel Tower and the Tuileries Gardens outside the Louvre Museum.


AP journalists Jeffrey Schaeffer, Oleg Cetinic, Nicolas Garriga and Daniel Cole contributed to this story.


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