Rossiya mama! Bozhe upasi! Flame in space!

History teaches us that modern Olympic Games are much more about nationalistic jingoism and megalomania than about sports, but what the Russians are doing now borders on craziness of cosmic proportions.

Literally: a spaceship known as Soyuz TMA-11M took off from the traditional Russian space centre at Baykonur (which happens to be right in the middle of the steppes – read: prairies – of Kazakhstan). It carries a three-member crew to the international space station (ISS). Also on board: Olympic relay torch.

If you said: HUH? that was the correct reaction. HUH? it is, as it should be, too.

The torch sits in a special box and, upon insistence of Russian space safety specialists, the flame has been extinguished, another breach of Olympic protocol. The idea is to show the world Russia can take the Olympic relay to space and bring it back, all the way to Sochi.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the flame went out prior to the Sochi games. Lit precisely in accordance with rules set by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the 19th century, lest you thought these were ancient Greek rules, the torch is supposed to keep burning until the end of the games. In this case, it went out shortly after arrival in Russia. A well-wisher from the crowd on a sidewalk helped light it again using a cigarette lighter. How it happened that Russian authorities didn’t call the games off right then and there, because this was a perfectly bad omen, nobody knows for sure.

Anyhow, Russian flight commander Mikhail Tyurin, plus his crew consisting of Koichi Wakata of Japan and Richard Mastracchio of the U.S., docked with the ISS after an abbreviated (six-hour) flight. It used to take a couple of days for a spacecraft to catch up and dock at the ISS.

In any case, the docking has happened successfully, and the station will have to accommodate nine people for four days. Then, Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg of the U.S., and Luca Parmitano of Italy will return to earth, bringing the relay torch with them.

To make sure the world sees it all, the handover of the Olympic torch will happen in outer space. Oleg Kotov will pass it to another Russian, Sergei Ryazanskii. To make sure the torch won’t slip away, it has been fitted with a ring and chain. The chain will be attached to the Russian cosmonauts’ sleeves.

In all fairness, this is NOT the first time the Olympic relay has made it all the way into space. American space shuttle took the 1996 Atlanta games torch for a ride, and so did another shuttle, prior to the Sydney games in 2000.

Nothing of the kind has happened since then. All the way to now.

That’s one of the minor issues of major proportions: everybody realized it was time to step back, rather than add even more expenses to the Olympian Olympic bill.

The other issue is how everybody seems to ignore what the Olympic torch relay is all about.

A bit of history: no, it did NOT begin in ancient Greece. A winner there could, should he so wish to indulge, visit a temple of his choice, light a torch to honour his god or goddess, whatever the case may be, sacrifice an animal to honour that god or goddess should he be moved thus, and if his mood told him thus, take part in a general orgy (no women allowed in competition, but no limitations put on their presence in such temple-based and clean fun).

And, by the way, nowhere did it say that the winner, or any participant, for that matter, had to be squeaky clean, meaning: free of drugs of any description. Doping and other methods of cheating were acknowledged publicly, without even a wink-wink, nudge-nudge: let me win this race and my sponsor offers you a job for a year, at so much per, with room and board on him, too.

Fairness? What is so incredibly fair about, say, a long-distance runner figuring out it’s better to train in high altitudes and come back to the valley only to compete? Come to think of it, what is so fair about one athlete being more gifted than the other?

But to get back to the Olympic relay. To the surprise of many, the idea was hatched in Adolf Hitler’s Reichskanzlei during preparations for the 1936 Olympic Games to be held in Berlin,.

Why the surprise? It’s a Teutonic habit, after all, to use torches all over the place. Just go to see any Wagnerian opera. Torches galore, firefighters at the ready backstage. Come to think of it, firefighters must enjoy these endless sagas more than anybody else.

It was also Hitler’s Reichskanzlei that came up with the brilliant idea that the final runner’s name would be kept secret until s/he accepts the torch to run the final few steps to light the Olympic flame. If you wish to know: the first final Olympic relay runner was a member of the Hitlerjugend, a sporting organization if there ever was one.

And now, the torch has made it into space.

When will this madness end?

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