Olympics-Paris 2024 to be 'light at the end of the tunnel' says next Games chief

(This story refiles to make clear in paragraph 14 that three of the four venues are within walking distance)

By Julien Pretot

BEIJING (Reuters) - After two Games clouded by COVID-19 restrictions, Paris 2024 is looking to launch a new momentum for the sporting extravaganza, promising an Olympic "light at the end of the tunnel".

One hundred years after France last hosted the Summer Olympics amid the post-World War One Années Folles (crazy years) period, Paris aims to be the stage for a carefree Games as they return to Europe for the first time in a decade.

"We want to take the Games out of the stadiums, with a ceremony out in the city and a marathon open to the general public," Tony Estanguet, a triple canoeing Olympic champion who was France's flag-bearer at the 2008 Beijing Games opening ceremony, told Reuters.

Some 600,000 people are expected to attend the opening ceremony with around 160 boats setting off on the Seine on July 26 from the Pont d'Austerlitz for a six-kilometre journey to the Pont d'Iena.

While the lower part of the river bank will be subject to ticketing, there will be free access to the upper part with spectators able to see holograms on the water, dancers on the roofs of nearby buildings and aerial shows.

"We are very ambitious, we want to break new ground and offer a popular and spectacular Games," said Estanguet of the Paris Olympics.

"With Milan-Cortina two years later, this is an opportunity for us to start a new cycle in Europe."

The Winter Games were last staged in Europe in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, after London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics.


At Beijing 2022, crowds have been extremely limited as authorities sought to keep COVID-19 out of the country by segregating athletes and Games workers from the general public with a strict "closed loop" system.

Just 97,000 people attended events at the Beijing Games, while Pyeongchang in 2018 attracted more than a million spectators, organisers said at the time.

The Tokyo Olympics also took place under similar restrictions. Beijing closes with a ceremony on Sunday.

In Paris, the whole city will embrace the Games, with some events staged at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

The Place de la Concorde will be the stage of new events - breaking and skateboarding - while the Chateau de Versailles will host equestrian competitions, and the Grand Palais will welcome taekwondo and fencing.

Three of those four venues are all within walking distance of each other.

"We want this Games to be popular, close to the people," said Estanguet.

"For a lot of people, the Paris Olympics are the light at the end of the tunnel, there are a lot of expectations in these Olympics.

"The Games will change everything that has been done before, we're going to experience something unprecedented."

With great expectations come great responsibilities.

"We like that kind of pressure, we like to question ourselves. We're going to do everything so that these Olympics make history," Estanguet said.

"The Games changed my life, I hope these Games can change other lives and that France will magnify the Olympics."

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ossian Shine)

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