Earvin Ngapeth, an Olympic gold medallist with the French national volleyball team, lit the cauldron. PARIS 2024

On Saturday, a constellation of medieval mysteries awaited the Olympic Torch Relay on the ancient streets of the Vienne département: it set off from the 11th century Tour Carrée in Loudun and finished in front of the Futuroscope Arena on its long and intense way to Paris.

Poitiers hosted the gymnastics team relay, led by Olympic gold medallist Émilie Le Pennec. Earvin Ngapeth, Olympic champion with the French volleyball team, was one of nearly 100 torchbearers who set off today to light the ceremonial cauldron at the end of the day.

The Vienne is a diverse region, combining a rich historical heritage with natural landscapes and embracing the Olympic values. The Futuroscope Arena has been designated as a Games Preparation Centre, while the Poitiers area boasts first-class facilities and iconic local sports clubs such as volleyball and basketball, which have put the département on the map.

The castles and abbeys of this département are reminders of its feudal past. Every year a medieval fair lights up the streets of Château-Larcher, bringing the past back to life. This morning, the Olympic Torch set off from the Tour Carrée in Loudun and made its way to Neuville-de-Poitou, famous for its medieval remains, such as the Château de Furigny, a listed building.

The relay then trotted along the quays of the Vienne in Châtellerault, where the industrial heritage has been transformed into a cultural and leisure area. In Montmorillon, it paid tribute to the 'City of Writing and Books', famous for its collection of typewriters and macarons and home to booksellers, traders and craftsmen.

The Olympic Torch stopped in the charming former medieval capital of Charroux - an important stop on the Pilgrim's Way - and illuminated the vaulted Abbey of the Holy Saviour before reaching Poitiers. With its rich historical past, Romanesque churches and medieval streets, the largest city in the Vienne stands out among the other stops along the route.

The torch passed St Peter's Cathedral in Poitiers, the Baptistery of St John - the oldest Christian monument in Europe - the Town Hall, the Prefecture and the Palace of the Dukes of Aquitaine. The stage ended at the only logical choice, the Futuroscope, the region's famous park, which rolls out the red carpet for around two million visitors every year.

The Fédération Française de Gymnastique, which brings together 325,000 licence holders from 1,400 clubs, organised the team relay in the Place de la Mairie with the majestic Second Empire style City Hall as the perfect backdrop. Spectators were also treated to a variety of performances highlighting the Olympic gymnastics disciplines.

The torch was carried by Émilie Le Pennec, the only French gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal, flanked by Eva Serrano, a two-time world bronze medallist in rhythmic gymnastics, and Henry Boério, the first French gymnast to win an Olympic medal on the horizontal bar (Montreal 1976), as well as volunteers and people who help keep amateur gymnastics alive. 

Among them were Benoît Bouline, who contributed to the development of gymnastics in the department, and Aurore Chauprade, who went back to school to train and work at the club where her two daughters play.

The impressing Futuroscope welcomed the Olympic Torch Relay. PARIS 2024
The impressing Futuroscope welcomed the Olympic Torch Relay. PARIS 2024

Alexis Brothier, the regional silver medallist in karate, was the first to light the torch in Loudun, followed by many other athletes and amateurs. This morning it was the turn of former national basketball player Catherine Guillot to celebrate her club, Stade Poitevin. Geoffrey Wersy carried the torch across the Pont Saint-Cyprien, which spans the Clain river in Poitiers.

Born with hemiplegia affecting in both his limbs, he competes in the paratriathlon and paraduathlon as a member of the French national team. Other unsung heroes illuminated this journey with their inspiring stories, including Marie-Claire Guillot, a dedicated doctor who embodies the essential role of medicine in sport to ensure the well-being of athletes. 

Juliana Blaise closed the stage in Châtellerault at midday. She is a volunteer with Global Heart Watch, a charity that educates the general public and athletes about life-saving techniques. In Poitiers, the torch was carried by Agathe Marcellaud, who has been a volunteer rescue worker for 5 years and is the local head of emergency services. 

The symbiotic relationship between sport and the media was on full display during Stage 16 of the Torch Relay. Among the torchbearers was former professional tennis player Tatiana Golovin, who now works as a sports commentator. 

Sports journalist and commentator Benoît Durand passed the torch to French volleyball star Earvin Ngapeth in front of the Arena Futuroscope. It was only natural that the volleyball enthusiast, who first tried his hand at the sport in Vienne, should light the cauldron at the venue. Ngapeth, who honed his skills in Poitiers, is preparing to defend his Olympic gold.