VANOC chief exec Furlong defends decision to let Schwarzenegger run with torch

VANCOUVER — The head of the Winter Games organizing committee has defended the decision to let California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger run with the Olympic torch.

VANCOUVER — The head of the Winter Games organizing committee has defended the decision to let California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger run with the Olympic torch.

News that the action star-turned-politician would carry the flame sparked criticism on radio phone-in shows and online message boards, with some questioning why the honour couldn’t go to a Canadian.

VANOC chief executive John Furlong said that Schwarzenegger is one of many international torchbearers and noted it’s an Olympic tradition that Vancouver organizers wish to continue.

“This is a global project,” Furlong said at a news conference Tuesday. “We are speaking to the world and he obviously has great connections with B.C., California has a fantastic relationship with the province.”

Schwarzenegger, a friend of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, will carry the torch on Friday, the day of the opening ceremonies.

“He’s been up here many times, you’ve heard him comment about the efforts we’re making to deliver a green Games and I think he will help focus attention on some of the work that we’re doing,” Furlong said. “Sebastian Coe is running, he’s from Britain, he’s a former Olympic champion. And there are others. So part of it is to have a nice balance and to make sure that the relay touches all of those pieces.

“So it’s normal and we are literally doing what has been consistent with Olympic history.”

The Great One’s father Walter Gretzky will also take part in the torch relay Friday. Astronaut Julie Payette will run Wednesday and singers Jann Arden and Michael Buble are on tap for Thursday.

The Terminator is one of more than a dozen international torchbearers to carry the flame. German figure skater Katarina Witt, Bollywood star Akshay Kumar and German singer Anna Maria Kaufmann previously carried the torch on its 106-day journey across the country.

Furlong added that Schwarzenegger will help generate even more interest in the torch relay and the Games.

“We looked at all of this through that sort of lens,” Furlong said. “What’s the higher calling here? What are we trying to achieve? This was one that we felt was an obvious one for us.”

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