Chasing the Olympic Flame Across Vancouver
A flame from Greece viewed as sacred by some was hoisted aloft by a single white-clad runner in the final stage of its journey through a raucous mass of Vancouverites decked out in red and white on Kingsway yesterday. And, as the Olympic Torch wound its way across town from the starting point at the Kingsway Safeway, crowds of screaming schoolchildren waving Canadian flags ran alongside the torch-bearers while throngs of adults snapped photos of the spectacle in a fast-moving street party.
RCMP runners surrounded the torch bearers as they ran and lit new torches during the cross-town relay, just about managing to keep the crowds yelling “Go Canada! Go!” from completely blocking the parade route, as police cars and VANOC vehicles including a media campervan drove in convoy.
“Get back! Get off the sidewalk,” was a repeated command yelled by RCMP runners and the Vancouver Police as the Olympic Flame wound its way through the narrow side-streets around Killarney.
The VO followed the Flame on foot, running through the heaving crowds from Kingsway through Killarney, then up Victoria drive where it made a brief stop at the Trout Lake Community Centre, the flame being passed on to a new runner in a sea of Vancouverites waving Maple Leafs.
It was then an exhausting - for the VO at least - run to the east along 12th Avenue, crossing Commercial Drive and Main Street before arriving at City Hall where Mayor Gregor Robertson addressed the runners and revelers.
"I'm counting on you to do your best to host the world," Robertson said to his huge audience. "Let's make this the most memorable time in our city's history."
The National Anthem got played next, with Vancouverites and visitors joining in the singing of O Canada as policewoman Tanya MacLachlan and fireman Brian Bogdanovich raised their burning torches above the crowd before continuing the Torch Relay down Cambie.
Free hot chocolate and cookies were laid on at a stall outside City Hall, where runners, police, and visitors alike could refresh themselves after the lung-busting race across the City that so far covered over 7 miles.
While the Torch Relay continued down Cambie and Oak Street to the BC Children’s Hospital, before continuing south to Langara College, then West through Kerrisdale to the Musqeam Reserve, the breathless and sore VO next caught up with the relay as it passed through the UBC Campus.
The scenes at University Boulevard near the War Memorial Gym were more reminiscent of a Mumbai bazaar than the normally placid Vancouver. Hordes of students and visitors packed so tightly together no-one could move, and in the middle of it all souvenir stalls and even a bouncy castle lined the parade route.
The screams and cheers that greeted the flame made even the crowds at Killarney sound tame by comparison, while a stage was set up that hosted the UBC Dance Team and the band Said the Whale in a free Olympic gig.
Driving evening rain did nothing to dampen the excitement as the Olympic Torch convoy crawled up University Boulevard toward Point Grey, as the VO attempted to leapfrog the torch by taking a bus to the Burrard Bridge.
As the flame came over the bridge greeted by the now-usual crowds and cheers, searchlights illuminated the sky as the VO once more ran alongside the Olympic Torch.
“I’ve been running since 6:30 this morning,” said one of the RCMP escorts jogging with the flame trying to keep back the throngs. “I normally do a lot more running than this.”
Finally, the grand finale at the David Lam Park, where Mayor Gregor Robertson, VANOC CEO John Furlong, and Governor Gordon Campbell greeted the torch as it lit the Olympic cauldron after a 105-day odyssey across Canada.
The VO was unable to get inside the park, thanks to huge crowds and lineups caused by security checks at the entrance, including metal detectors.
Instead, the VO joined thousands of other people on Pacific Boulevard where screens were rigged up showing the scenes from David Lam Park, then ending with a spectacular multi-coloured fireworks display laid on courtesy of LiveCity Yaletown.