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Gary Mason

The torch lit an Olympic spark in me Add to ...

The first thing they tell you in the Olympic torchbearer handbook is to be well-rested the day of the run.

So it probably wouldn't have been advisable to fly to and from Athens in the previous 48 hours, spending roughly 30 hours in the air. I arrived at my relay location on Vancouver Island yesterday having slept maybe 10 hours in the previous 21/2 days.

Despite the exhaustion, I had a perspective of the relay few of my fellow torchbearers enjoyed. You see, less than 24 hours earlier, I had witnessed Greek officials transferring the authority of the torch to the hands of Vancouver Olympic officials in an ancient coliseum in Athens. And then I flew back to Canada in the company of the lantern-enclosed flame.

So it was a bit surreal to think I would be carrying a torch that was a descendent of the one I saw lit in Panathenian stadium not even a day earlier.

And surreal, it was.

The Olympics have a profound impact on people, and quite often, those they affect most work for the Games. People like Pierre-Luc Siméon, a young man from Montreal, who briefed our group of torchbearers on what we should expect. He admitted he can rarely talk about the relay and the symbolism of the torch without shedding tears.

Our group represented a true cross-section of Canadians. There were former Olympians, such as skier Allison Forsyth. There were moms running for daughters who had died. An aboriginal teacher and a diabetes researcher. There was Morgan Tierney, a former UBC goaltender, who spent four years on her hockey team and didn't play a regular season game, though she got into the team's last playoff game of her final season.

Lloyd Robertson, the CTV anchor, also ran with us.

None of us knew what to expect. We wondered whether more than five people would be there to watch us. When our bus began dropping runners at their starting points, only a few people were around in a couple of places.

Anyway, Ms. Forsyth would be handing off to me. I was dropped off at my spot in Central Saanich, 20 minutes outside Victoria, and 200 people must have been at my corner, and hundreds and hundreds more lined the street I'd be running.

The best part was waiting for the torch to arrive. I had about 20 minutes with the people on that corner, who couldn't believe the torch, although not yet lit, was among them.

I had my picture taken with babies, put the torch in the hands of a four-year-old and a 94-year-old. I helped an old man who pushed himself to the corner in a wheelchair hold it. A teenaged girl started crying as her mother took her picture with the torch.

As I started running with the torch, it felt, well, strangely wonderful. Around me were Canadians of every description: babies in strollers, teenagers in early Halloween garb, seniors draped in flags. Their cheers were deafening.

They may have had nothing in common, yet they had everything in common: an overpowering urge to witness a little piece of history.

I realized that tomorrow, I might be writing something about the Olympics that isn't flattering.

But on this day, I could see the power this all-too-often flawed event has on people. The first day of the relay was for the believers.

I thought of John Furlong's vision for these Games: to bring Canada more closely together. After 30 minutes with the torch yesterday, I believed it may just happen.

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