Russia's Olympic flame under fire after failures

One of the Olympic torches rises in front of a poster with the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic logo just outside the Red Square in Moscow, on October 7, 2013, during a ceremony to kick off the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay across Russia. Russi
One of the Olympic torches rises in front of a poster with the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic logo just outside the Red Square in Moscow, on October 7, 2013, during a ceremony to kick off the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay across Russia. Russian authorities on Tuesday were pressed for an explanation after Olympic torches produced by a missile maker and used in the relay for the Sochi Winter Games went out four times. -- PHOTO: AFP 

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian authorities on Tuesday were pressed for an explanation after Olympic torches produced by a missile maker and used in the relay for the Sochi Winter Games went out four times.

The flame was extinguished twice on Monday - the first day of the relay - and twice on Tuesday, according to media reports and witnesses.

One of the relay participants, finswimmer world record holder Shavarsh Karapetyan, whose torch went out on Monday and was reportedly relit by a secret service officer, was even given the opportunity to run in the relay for a second time, according to RIA-Novosti.

"The torch went out twice," wrote Moscow photographer Yury Feklistov Tuesday, who posted pictures on his Facebook of one of the incidents. "They had to switch the torch."

"We have people responsible for this," Russia's sports minister Vitaly Mutko told Itar-TASS when asked to comment about the problem. "I think that experts will sort it out."

The pro-Vladimir Putin campaign coalition All-Russian People's Front however urged investigators to take matters in their hands and find out if budget money from the total sum of 207 million rubles spent on the torches (S$7.9 million) had been misspent.

"Any normal person has a few questions: why were there 16,000 torches made? How much does each one cost? Is the price adequate? Finally, why don't they work?" a group member and pro-Kremlin deputy Mikhail Starshinov asked.

A spokesman for KRASMASH, a manufacturer in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk that produced the torches confirmed that 16,000 torches were made.

"According to the agreement with the (Sochi) Organising Committee we don't have the right to give out any information about the torches besides the confirmation that we made them," he told AFP.

The factory is known as the maker of ballistic missiles for Russian submarines as well as parts for the Proton rocket used in the country's space programme.

There was no tender process for the torch-making contract and it's not clear why the factory was picked for the job.

Some of the torches made for the relay have already been put up for sale on various Russian websites.

One seller in the Siberian city of Chita, where the relay is set to pass through, offered a torch on the website Molotok.Ru, the Russian version of Ebay. So far only one bidder has made an offer of 40,000 rubles.

The nearly metre-long torch is made of aluminium and weighs 1.8kg, with the weight also having caused some complaints.

"The construction of the torch ensures that the flame burns reliably in difficult conditions, such as strong winds, heavy frosts, or any surprises that a Russian winter can throw up," the Sochi Organising Committee website says.