The Olympic flame burns for everyone

Connect. Inspire. It’s that electric moment — as the flame ignited in Greece licks across the tip of one torch and joins it to the next — that incites crowds of people to briefly hold their breath and then let it explode in a chorus of cheers.

An attendant pushes Landon Haigh’s wheelchair as he carries the Olympic torch outside Red Deer College on Jan. 15.

An attendant pushes Landon Haigh’s wheelchair as he carries the Olympic torch outside Red Deer College on Jan. 15.

Connect. Inspire.

It’s that electric moment — as the flame ignited in Greece licks across the tip of one torch and joins it to the next — that incites crowds of people to briefly hold their breath and then let it explode in a chorus of cheers.

For awhile at least, all the turmoil in the world is set aside and everyone becomes equal, says Lyn Radford, chair of the team that set up celebrations to receive the torch relay in Red Deer.

The torch reached Red Deer on Jan. 15, Day 78 of its 106-day trip from Victoria to Vancouver, via Ellesmere Island and St. John’s, Nfld.

Nothing in the world can match reaching the podium during the Olympic Games, says retired Red Deer freestyle skier Deidra Dionne, who won a bronze medal in aerials during the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. She placed 22nd in the Turin Olympics, four years later.

“Obviously, I don’t think anything will top standing on the Olympic podium, because it’s pretty special and something that I worked incredibly hard for, for most of the years of my life,” says Dionne.

A previous injury left Dionne with scars that she could not overcome. After three and a half years of training, her opportunity for a third Olympics was cut short with her retirement from competition last October.

Dionne’s Olympic dream was re-ignited when the Vancouver organizing committee invited her to take a spot in the torch relay during its run through Red Deer.

“I had a huge desire to be part of these Olympics. To carry the torch was a really nice way to feel connected to these Olympics. I was honoured to be selected.”

The Vancouver Organizing Committee and the torch relay’s two corporate sponsors, Coca-Cola and RBC, each chose the people who would carry the flame. RBC and Coke held online contests, making final selections from among those who applied.

From the time a surfer landed the torch on the beach in Victoria, successive participants found unique and distinctly Canadian means of conveyance.

It has travelled over land and sea and it has flown from point to point, zigzagging across the country from the West Coast, to the north, to the East Coast and back. It has been carried on dogsled and horseback and, in Alert, NU, travelled on a specially-built four-wheel-drive bus used to carry tourists interested in watching polar bears.

In Camrose, the flame became a central part in an aboriginal ceremony when torchbearer Willie Littlechild, former MP for Wetaskiwin, passed the flame to Meagan Big-Snake, a member of the Siksika Nation.

As their torches connected, Littlechild and Big-Snake turned to face each of the four directions — north, east, south and west — to honour those who couldn’t be there.

Crowds estimated at more than 15,000 people gathered at Red Deer’s Westerner Park to meet the torch on Friday, Jan. 15 — Day 78 of the relay.

Picked up at Red Deer College by high school student Landon Haigh, the torch completed its final leg of the day in the seat of a horse-drawn wagon, carried by Ron Woodward, former president of Red Deer College. Woodward rode his part of the relay in horse-drawn wagon, accompanied by an enthusiastic crew of children, one from each school in the Red Deer public and Catholic school divisions.

The Olympic torch tradition commemorates Prometheus for this theft of fire from Zeus. The tradition was rekindled for the 1928 Summer Olympics, held that year in Amsterdam.

Since then, a flame has been lit in Greece to open each of the succeeding versions of the Olympic Games. The torch relay was introduced for the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

Last Oct. 22, an actress playing the role of high priestess used a parabolic mirror to capture a ray of sunlight to light the flame for the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

Terry Gagnon of Innisfail says he gets a lump in his throat when he recalls opening ceremonies for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. A member of Canada’s volleyball team, Gagnon was just a few metres away when Paralympic athlete Antonio Rebollo shot a flaming arrow into the cauldron to open the Games.

Gagnon would carry that memory, burned on his heart, for his leg of the 2010 torch relay on Day 85 in Windemere, B.C.

He was among a group of Canadian Olympians invited by the Vancouver Organizing Committee to enter a draw for the last 96 spots on the relay.

He and his wife, Shelley, plan to arrive a couple of days early along with their two children to check out the slopes at Panorama.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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