By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Olympic torch has been traveling across Brazil, bound to pass through three hundred towns and be carried by over 12,000 torchbearers who will each run two kilometers. Ordinary and not-so-ordinary Brazilians, young and old, of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, have carried the torch in the first week of the 95-day relay.
Following its arrival in Brasilia last week, where the flame was welcomed at a ceremony at the Pálacio do Planalto, the flame was handed off to the first torchbearer, two-time Brazilian Olympic volleyball champion Fabiana Claudino.
Among the torchbearers in the capital were surfing champion, Gabriel Medina, Olympic bronze medalist marathon runner, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, and a twelve-year-old Syrian refugee Hanan Khaled Daqqah.
Daqqah fled her war-torn country of Syria for São Paulo in 2015 under Brazil’s special humanitarian visa program. “I love the Brazilian people, I feel Brazilian myself,” the young girl said afterwards.
From Brasilia, the torch travelled to the central state of Goiás, where it landed in a traditional ox-cart in Itaberaí before arriving in the state capital, the historic city of Goiás. The colonial town came to life as 83-year-old chef Silvia Curado, famous to locals for sixty years for her sweet pastries, walked through the cobblestone streets carrying the torch. “I never dreamed this could happen,” said an emotional Curado.
The highlight of the Goiás leg may have been torchbearer Fausto Carraro, the two-time Brazilian air guitar champion, who used the iconic torch to show off some of his patented air guitar skills. The torch visited several cities in Goiás state, before leaving for Minas Gerais on Saturday (May 7th).
Known for their rich history and delicious cuisine, the various cities of the Minas Gerais region are hosting the torch for the entire week until Sunday (May 15th). Torchbearers will include local pop singer Paula Fernandes and paraglider Moisés Sodré, who will take the torch on a paragliding flight in the city of Governador Valadares.
The torch relay culminates at Maracanã stadium for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on August 5th. The Rio 2016 Olympics are the first to be held in South America, and expected to bring over 500,000 international tourists to the country from August 5th to the 21st.