Published on Wed, 08/03/2011 by Twentyten Group

Torch relay lit flame of national pride

Patriot Hearts

The torch relay of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games was an event that connected Canadians to the Games, to their country, and to each other, but it took a massive organizational effort to pull off, says John Furlong, former chief of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Organizing Committee.

The relay began in Victoria, BC, in October 2009. Along the way, it ran through more than 1,000 communities, from west to east and into the far north. After hitting the east coast, the relay headed west. By water, it travelled about 1,000 kilometres, 18,000 by air, and 26,000 on land.

The torch eventually found its way into the hands of Wayne Gretzky, who used it to light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremonies. It was the longest domestic relay in Olympic history.

"We had a team of 250 people charged with taking that flame, metaphorically speaking, to the front doors of every Canadian, and it was not an easy job. I recall meeting with that team again, and again, and again, and pushing them to do more.

"I remember the guy who was in charge of the relay team -- you know I could hear them walking down the hall from my office and commenting 'that guy is going to kill us,' because I said to them, 'we're only going to do this once and we don't want to be looking back and asking about what else we should have done.'

"So ultimately, they ran for 106 straight days without taking a day off. They gave the country a great experience and it was a massive undertaking. In and of itself, it was almost as big as the Olympics ... it required perfect timing and was executed to (near) military precision."

The relay produced some very Canadian moments for Furlong.

"We were ... on the way into Winnipeg during the torch relay and I remember the last two kilometers there were over 100,000 people on the road, and then another 25,000 at the celebration. The temperature was minus 30 and I said to the premier, 'why wouldn't you have put this inside?' and he said, 'this is Winnipeg, this is Canada, this is the way it is.'

"I'm freezing to death, thinking, 'oh my God, I just want to get under a blanket,' it was so cold. And I realized that we have this extraordinary spirit -- we look at winter and we wrestle it to the ground. That's who we are."

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