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Siberian company feeling the heat over Olympic torch for Sochi 2014

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25 October 2013


'The torches were tested in all possible ways and reliable burning will be guaranteed in any wind', the makers said. Picture: Sochi 2014 Torch Relay

The torch is produced by Krasmash, better known for manufacturing parts of Russian submarines, ballistic missiles, as well as Proton and Zenit space rockets.

Reports on Thursday said the plant was facing 'mass checks' amid complaints about the poor performance of the torch, which is due to visit every region of Russia, go to the top of Mount Elbrus, the bottom of Lake Baikal and even appear in the International Space Station - all part of a 65,000 kilometre odyssey.

TVK channel claimed the checks were 'not among the engineers but  the workers'. There was no initial confirmation of why any checks were taking place. Nevertheless, the flame was the subject of inflammatory debate on the blogosphere.

As 'Expert Siberia' magazine reported, the Krasnoyarsk company had beaten off major rivals to win a 205 million rouble contract for 16,000 torches, some 2,000 of these being for the Paralympics.

There were claims the torch was a 'techno wonder' but it has become the butt of jokes over its performances so far. The first time it suddenly extinguished was as it was carried through the Kremlin moments after the relay was officially launched by President Vladimir Putin in a televised ceremony on Red Square.

The flame was re-lit by a nearby official with his cigarette lighter. Sochi Organising Committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko blamed the mishap on a valve that had not been opened properly, and said people should 'not pay any attention' to what had happened.

But other similar cases were recorded. Then, by 22 October, there were claims the torch was 'engulfed by flames' during the nationwide relay. This time Chernyshenko was forced to admit that there was a 'strong flame' while denying media there had been an explosion and a 13-year-old girl had suffered light burns during the incident.

There were no burns, the torch did not explode in the hands of the participant. The '13-year-old girl' was actually an adult employee of the legal service of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee,' he explained. But a pro-Kremlin movement claimed that by 9 October the torch had gone out four times. 

Sochi 2013 torch relay

Exhaustive tests showed the torch worked even in a snowdrift. Picture: Sochi 2014 Torch Relay

Mikhail Starshinov, a State Duma Deputy and senior member of the People's Front movement,  headed by President Putin, accused organisers of 'unconvincing' explanations. 'Any normal person would have several questions. Why were 16,000 torches made? How much does each torch cost? Is this price reasonable? And, finally, why do they work badly?'

The makers claimed 'the torches were tested in all possible ways and reliable burning will be guaranteed in any wind'. But the front called for the Russian Investigative Committee - equivalent of the US FBI - to 'check the appropriate disbursement of funds in the manufacture of the torches'.

The manufacturer has felt unable to defend its torches due to a contract which prevents it from commenting. 

'The trials of the Olympic torches were held under much harder conditions than in practical use. The Krasnoyarsk machine building plant is not to blame for the flames failure,' said Andrei Samokhin, chairman of the committee on budget and economic politics of the Krasnoyarsk legislature.

Mikhail Vasilyev, chief of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Krasnoyarsk region, insisted: 'No complaints against the Krasnoyarsk machine building plant had ever been lodged before. 'All the plant produced 'always worked and hit the target.'

Krasmash engineer Andrey Vodyanik explained earlier that 'the torch can only stop working if man decides so'. He revealed 'it is based on a unique system of double burning, like a Russian matryoshka doll. 'There is fire inside the torch which ignites the external fire. If suddenly the external fire goes, it immediately comes back from the inside fire.'

Exhaustive tests showed the torch worked even in a snowdrift. Factory Alexander Nazarko said it took one and a half years only to design the torch. 'It is a very complicated mechanism which should be able to keep the fire on in any condition,' he said. This includes at minus 40C and in high winds. 'So when pictures started appearing all over the web with torches going off on sunny and still days, the search for the guilty party began,' stated 'Expert Siberia' magazine. 

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