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Torchbearer for Sochi Olympics briefly catches fire in Siberian city

Nikolai Malykh carries the torch during the Olympic flame relay in a tunnel of a Siberian hydroelectric plant this week. Another torchbearer briefly caught fire. Olympictorch2014.Com / AP

On the Sochi Olympics torch relay, the longest in history, the biggest problem has been simply keeping the flame going. This week there was a different mishap: One of the torchbearers caught himself on fire.

Pyotr Makarchuk, a former Russian Olympic bobsledder, was carrying the torch through a crowd in the Siberian city of Abakan on Wednesday when flames suddenly leapt onto the left shoulder and arm of his jacket.

Escorts put out the fire, and Makarchuk was not hurt, Roman Osin, a spokesman for the torch relay, told Reuters. He said that the flames were caused by drops of liquid gas that fell onto the jacket.

The torch is traveling 40,000 miles on its way to the opening ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Winter Games open on Feb. 7. It has been to the North Pole, and cosmonauts took an unlit torch on a ceremonial space walk last month.

The trouble is that it keeps going out.

On Oct. 6, minutes after President Vladimir Putin started the relay, the flame died while a former Soviet swimming champion was jogging it through an archway at the Kremlin. A man nearby jumped to the rescue with a cigarette lighter.

Since then, The Moscow Times has counted 44 times that the flame has gone out. An independent Russian television station reported that it sputtered and died eight times in just the first six days.

Osin, the spokesman, told Reuters earlier this month that the torch’s performance was within the normal range of error. He declined to say how many times the flame had gone out.

Reuters contributed to this report.