Local hero Antoine Dupont was one of the stars on Friday. PARIS 2024

The Olympic Torch Relay continues its intense and emotional journey since arriving in mainland France on 10 May with a grand ceremony in Marseille after a long and special journey from Greece aboard the 19th Century boat Belem. Seven days later, rugby was in the spotlight.

The ninth stafe of the Torch Relay set off from Revel to Toulouse and from Villemur-sur-Tarn to Colomiers. On Friday 17 May, the entire 'département' was buzzing with anticipation and gave the nearly 150 Olympic torchbearers a magnificient welcome. 

The Stade Toulousain champions then took centre stage in this rugby-mad city, with the famous scrum-half Antoine Dupont lighting the cauldron, Romain Ntamack and his father Émile, David Berty, Vincent Clerc and Maxime Médard. Bigflo and Oli and Thibo InShape were among them. 

A series of para-sport shows, concerts and sports activities immersed the public in the atmosphere of the Games. Para sports took centre stage at the Revel Belfry, with demonstrations of wheelchair biathlon and football for the blind. 

About a hundred kilometres away, in Villemur-sur-Tarn, a staggering 1,500 youngsters joined baritone Omar Hasan, also a charismatic representative of the local rugby scene, for a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise. Rieux-Volvestre provided the backdrop for an XL Games dance. 

The entire Pink City was lit up in the colours of the Torch Relay for the spectacle of a lifetime! The Olympic torch crossed the Place du Capitole, a major landmark, and made its way to the Saint-Sernin's Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meanwhile, every generation of Stade Toulousain players gathered: Maxime Médard, who spent his entire career with the 'Red and Black', and two local heroes in Romain Ntamack and his father Émile. 

Three-time Six Nations champion Vincent Clerc was also on hand, as was David Berty, who now plays wheelchair rugby for Toulousain Olympique XIII. The end-of-the-day celebrations took place near the Ernest Wallon stadium, home of the Stade Toulousain. Antoine Dupont, the charismatic captain of the France and Stade Toulousain and winner of the 2021 World Rugby Men's 15s Player of the Year, was the final torchbearer of the day.

Coming from Aude, the day began in Revel with triple amputee Jérôme Bernard, a family man, entrepreneur and volunteer who has been fighting for years to make sport more accessible to people with disabilities. He set up an organisation to encourage disabled athletes to take on daring challenges together. He is living proof that anything is possible with enough determination and his latest adventure was completing the GR20 trail in Corsica.

The Haute-Garonne enjoyed an intense day with the Olympic torch relay. PARIS 2024
The Haute-Garonne enjoyed an intense day with the Olympic torch relay. PARIS 2024

The audience also met 2023 handball world champion Nodjialem Myaro, the Toulouse Football Club goalkeeper Guillaume Restes and Brianna Vidé, a para-fencer who will be competing at Paris 2024; as well as Coralie Gonzalez, a member of the French national handball team, and Claude Onesta, a player and star coach of the national handball team. Thibo InShape, a French YouTuber with over 18 million subscribers, and Bigflo & Oli, the top dogs of the Toulouse rap scene, also received a warm welcome on the streets. 

Toulouse is a badminton hotbed that has produced stars such as Bernard de Pérignon. The Team Relay, organised by the French Badminton Federation, shared strong values with Florence Delgal, a four-time French Para badminton champion in the women's doubles, as captain. As a teacher, she insists and repeats to her students the key values of personal transcendence, inclusion and sharing.

On Saturday, the Olympic torch will make its way towards the Atlantic and visit the Gers, or "Little Tuscany" as it's known. It will set off from L'Isle-Jourdain and pass through Mirande, Fleurance, Marciac, Condom and Nogaro before arriving in Auch. On 20 May, the '100 days to the Paralympic Games' will also be celebrated on the streets of the Relais de la Flamme, in the Pyrénées Atlantiques.