Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, lit the Olympic cauldron on Saturday in her home city of Yaroslavl to mark the arrival of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games torch relay.
The record-breaking 65,000km relay is 13 days old, having started on Moscow’s Red Square on October 7. It arrives in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the opening ceremony on February 7.
In a ceremony on a central square in Yaroslavl, Tereshkova, 76, took the now-familiar red-and-silver torch and set it to the cauldron, drawing applause from the crowd in the city of half a million located 250km northeast of Moscow.
“In space, we have to hide our emotions far, far away because of the responsibility,” she said. “Today there were emotions, but the main thing was not to let down the people who trusted me with this role.”
She added that she would have liked to take the Olympic flame into space “but unfortunately that’s not up to me.”
Tereshkova was first woman to fly in space, piloting the Vostok 6 rocket into the cosmos in June 1963 and spending three days in orbit. It was two years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
The Olympic flame, meanwhile, will later head to St. Petersburg before being flown to Russia’s Far East and eventually looping around the Kamchatka Peninsula, down to Vladivostok and back across southern Siberia via Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake.
On its way through all of Russia’s 83 regions, the flame will make its way back into European Russia, winding down through the Caucasus to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the opening ceremony.
The space theme is to recur throughout the relay, with an unlit torch to be used at the opening ceremony blasting off for the international space station next month.