THE WINTER OLYMPICS

From Olympia to the Calgary Games

RALPH SURETTE November 30 1987
THE WINTER OLYMPICS

From Olympia to the Calgary Games

RALPH SURETTE November 30 1987

From Olympia to the Calgary Games

THE WINTER OLYMPICS

The windblown snow in St. John's, Nfld., created a fitting backdrop for the start of the odyssey. Originat ing at Olympia, Greece, where it

was ignited on Nov. 14 at the Temple of Hera, goddess of the Olympics, the Olympic flame last week began its epic 88-day journey across Canada—to Calgary and the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. Atop St. John’s historic Signal Hill, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney passed the flame—flown to Canada from Greece in two coal miners’ lamps— to a cauldron and ignited the Olympic torch. Then, the first torchbearers—figure skating legend Barbara Ann ScottKing, 59, gold medal winner at the St. Moritz Winter Olympics of 1948, and Ferd Hayward, 76, Newfoundland’s first-ever Canadian Olympic athlete, who competed as a race walker at Helsinki in 1952—carried the flame for the first kilometre of its 18,000-km journey. Said Scott-King: “To an athlete, the Olympic torch is almost sacred. I saw it from afar at St. Moritz. I never thought I’d get to touch it, to carry it. I am thrilled.”

By Feb. 13, when it arrives at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium for the Games’ opening ceremonies, 7,000 Canadians will have carried the 1.7-kg torch. Wearing red and white jogging suits, the torchbearers—the majority of whom were selected by lottery—will each carry the torch one kilometre. The marathon relay will cover 8,250 km by road, 2,750 km by snowmobile from Northern Ontario to Saskatchewan— and more than 6,000 km by aircraft on a tour through the Northwest Territories. On a route that will take it to every territorial and provincial capital, the flame will also travel by sea and dogsled. Explained Sandy Hunter, media director for the torch relay: “The route was designed so that the flame will be no more than a two-hour drive away for 90 per cent of the Canadian population.” The appeal of the Olympic symbol was clear last week as citizens of St. John’s crowded along the flame’s route and broke spontaneously into choruses of O Canada. Flagand balloon-waving children raced out of every school along the way to touch the maple handle of the torch, shaped like the Calgary Tower. Carrying the flame out of St. John’s, Brett Thornhill, a 20-year-old Memorial University student, was asked by relay organizers to slow down. “I can’t slow down,” he said. “I’m on too big a high. I’ve thought about it day and night for weeks.” Equally enthusiastic, thousands of people cheered at later ceremonies when the flame arrived in the Newfoundland communities of Mount Pearl, South Conception Bay and Holyrood.

Like Thornhill, 6,520 torchbearers

were chosen by lottery. The others— including former Olympians, native Canadians who will carry the flame in and near reserves, and handicapped people—were chosen by their own special organizing groups in co-ordination with the flame relay sponsor and organizer, Petro Canada. The company mailed 10 million invitations to Canadians to participate and received 6.5 million responses. David Pagnucco, for one, a 30year-old miner from Cranbrook, B.C., who carried the torch on the first day, said that he sent in “thousands, thousands. I didn’t count them.” The youngest runner will be four-year-old Bruno Levesque from Jacquet River, N.B., scheduled to run near Edmundston. The oldest torchbearer is Joe Chase of Wetaskawin, Alta., who will be 101 years old when he carries the torch in his town.

The torchbearers are accompanied

by a 40-vehicle caravan—including four motor homes, TV transmission trucks and vans carrying the 70-member relay staff. In addition to relay coordinators and medical personnel, escort runners are on hand. They jog along with the torchbearers, carrying a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher. Preparation for the relay is so detailed that organizers have produced a 10-cmthick instruction manual for each week of the torch’s 13-week journey. The document records every hill, shopping plaza, bridge and stop sign along the way.

And to ensure that the flame is not lost en route, 11 miner’s lanterns were ignited with the flame at Olympia. Four travel with the relay; the others were flown to Calgary. Each night the torch—housing a cannister containing one of three fuel mixtures especially developed for the relay—is extinguished, then reignited from one of the miner’s lamps for the

first runner the next morning. But despite the careful planning, the torch was accidentally extinguished three times on the relay’s first day.

At week’s end, the Olympic flame reached Sheet Harbour, N.S., and runners in Dartmouth, the first stop next week, waited for their turn to carry the torch—and a chance to play their part in the longest Olympic flame relay ever held.

RALPH SURETTE

in St. John’s