Russian torchbearer catches fire during Olympic relay

MOSCOW (AFP) - A former bobsledder taking part in Russia's marathon Olympic torch relay ahead of next year's Winter Games in Sochi briefly caught fire while carrying the flame in Siberia.

Homemade footage of the incident posted on Russian websites on Thursday showed the left sleeve of 2006 Turin Winter Games bobsleigh team member Pyotr Makarchuk bursting into flames from what appeared to be a leak in the torch.

Mr Makarchuk was at that moment running up to the podium for a formal Olympic cauldron lighting ceremony late Wednesday in the western Siberian city of Abakan.

The video footage ends the moment a man in the thick crowd can be heard shouting: "His sleeve is on fire!" Russia's Interfax news agency said that Mr Makarchuk was left unhurt by the apparent leak.

"An assistant quickly put out the fire and gave the athlete a new uniform," the news agency wrote from snow-covered Abakan.

"After that, the (cauldron lighting) ceremony continued," the report said.

Russia has suffered through a string of misadventures with its much-vaunted Olympic torch, which is made by a renowned rocket production plant and which resembles a feather whose red and grey colours are supposed to symbolise fire and ice.

Another video captured on a phone camera earlier this month showed the flame exploding in the hands of a young woman who reports said had suffered minor burns.

The torch has also gone out on repeated occasions in the face of Russia's inhospitable winds as it winds its way across the country on a relay ahead of the February 7-23 event.

The relay got off to a rocky start on its very first day on October 6 when the flame went out just as one of the torchbearers was passing through a Kremlin gate following a cauldron-lighting ceremony overseen by President Vladimir Putin.

A Kremlin security officer then quickly relit the torch with his cigarette lighter.