Almanack: Torch diplomacy

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A LUDICROUS row between Norway and Greece concerning Olympic torches has been defused by a masterful piece of semantic and pyrotechnical juggling. The Olympic flame from Greece will now 'meet' the flame from Norway in Oslo on 5 February. But according to the tortured text of the diplomatic deal, they will not 'merge'.

Gerhard Heiberg, president of the Lillehammer Olympic Organising Committee, claims that the arrangement will allow Greeks to say that only the flame from Olympia was used at the opening ceremony for the Winter Games on 12 February. At the same time, Norwegians will be able to claim that 'some part' of their flame, lit in Morgedal in south Norway last year at the start of a 75-day relay, would also reach Lillehammer in the Olympic torch.

This will appease Greek officials, incensed by the notion that any other flame might 'mix' with the pure flame ignited at the site of the ancient Olympics. Proud Norwegians had countered that Morgedal is the birthplace of modern skiing, pointed out that the words 'ski' and 'slalom' originated in Norway and finally made the cruel accusation that ancient Greeks never practised winter sports anyway, yah boo sucks.

'This is a compromise everyone can be happy with,' Mr Heiberg told a specially convened news conference. He and another Games official then carefully acted out the compromise with unlit torches. 'How far the Olympic flame used at the opening ceremony at Lillehammer is Greek or Norwegian will be a question of interpretation,' Mr Heiberg said. Almanack is quite unable to decide who is more deserving of sympathy: the sad men whose lives are dedicated to the solving of such problems, or the Norwegian and Greek taxpayers who have to fund the whole absurd business.