Torch relay begins

Canadian Olympic gold medallist Catriona Le May Doan and Simon Whitfield wrapped their hands around a single torch for the 2010 Winter Games and dipped it into the cauldron Friday to start the torch relay.

Catriona Le May Doan

Catriona Le May Doan

VICTORIA — Canadian Olympic gold medallist Catriona Le May Doan and Simon Whitfield wrapped their hands around a single torch for the 2010 Winter Games and dipped it into the cauldron Friday to start the torch relay.

It was the culmination of one long journey and the start of another.

Together, the gold medal winners jogged the sleek 2010 torch around the fountain on the lawn of the B.C. legislature and through a cheering crowd before tipping their torch to another held by fellow gold medallists Alexandre Despatie and Silken Laumann, who took the second leg of the 106-day relay.

Earlier, the flame for the 2010 Olympics arrived at Victoria International Airport and with sacramental reverence, began a colourful and ceremonial journey that will eventually take it to all corners of the country.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson carried the flame, burning in a miners’ lantern, out of the aircraft that arrived from Greece, where the flame was lit by the rays of the sun on the site of the ancient Games.

Robertson placed it on the tarmac, a brief contact with Canadian soil. It was then carried by two aboriginal firekeepers.

It was brought across Victoria’s inner harbour in aboriginal canoes and welcomed to Canada by aboriginal leaders who, dressed in the distinctive headwear of the B.C. coastal First Nations, walked the flame from the docks to the legislature grounds.

Thousands of people lined the route, waving Canadian and Olympic flags and waiting for a glimpse of the procession.

Senupin, or Chief Andy Thomas, of the Esquimalt nation, called it an historic day for his people and for Canada.

“It’s truly an historical event for our people to take our place and stand with the world today, where we can come together with one mind on behalf of our young people, ones that are training for the Olympics and for the young ones who are up and coming,” he said.

He said it will be a memory in the hearts of his people, in particular young people.

“It’s going to spark a flame in our young people and give them hope that one day, they’ll be standing on the podium,” he said.

He wished all the athletes success and good sportsmanship for the Games.

Earlier at the airport, a tired but elated-looking John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver organizing committee, told the assembled crowd and dignitaries that it was good to be back.

“We’ve had the most extraordinary mission. I don’t think any of us can really properly describe the events of the last 48 hours, but it’s the best exhaustion I think we’ve ever felt,” Furlong said, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell standing near.

“Our hope is that this flame will now shine a bright light on the people and the places of our country. The days to come will be magical, and they’ll be happy, especially four our children and our youth,” he said.

“This is for all Canadians, young and old, no one left out. . .The world will be watching us.”

The flame was transported across the harbour in an aboriginal canoe carved from a single, enormous cedar and painted with a traditional Salish sea wolf.

Aboriginal paddlers dressed in blanket jackets and feathered headresses rowed the flame to the docks near the Empress Hotel. They were from the four First Nations where the Games will be held.

The Games cauldron was lit by Darlene Poole, the widow of 2010 board chairman Jack Poole. It took a few moments for the flame to take, and there was a cheer from the crowd when orange flames licked the air above the cauldron that will burn until the Games are complete.

The crowd held a moment of silence for Poole, who died shortly after the 2010 flame was lit in Greece last week.

The relay will cover 45,000 kilometres by plane, boat, bike, dogsled, skateboard and many other modes of transportation.

It will travel to the most extreme corners of the country, to Alert in the North and L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland in the east and will pass through more than 1,000 communities by 12,000 torchbearers.

It is the longest domestic torch run ever.

The final leg of the journey is in Vancouver, where the flame will be run into BC Place Stadium to light a cauldron there and signal the start of the Vancouver Games on Feb. 12.

The relay begins after elaborate ceremony in Greece to light the torch by the sun’s rays in ancient Olympia.

The flame then went on an eight-day trek through northern Greece, a relay touched with controversy when the International Olympic Committee rebuked the Greeks for having as a torchbearer a gold-medal-winning hurdler who had been kicked out of the 2008 Beijing Games for doping infractions.

Protesters have said they’ll use the torch relay to highlight their opposition to the Games, complaining of a number of issues from aboriginal and animal rights to environmental concerns.

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