April 6, 2008

Olympic Torch...Relay?

I love the Olympics and one of my life goals is to go to the Olympics some day - as an observer, a volunteer or a perhaps as a photographer!

Today the Olympic torch was brought through London as part of the relay to transfer it from Greece to China. This is the second time I've witnessed the relay. The first was in San Francisco in 2001. Stephen and I got up with the sunrise, hopped on our bikes and made our way the few blocks from my apartment (shared with Julie Trell) to the Marina. It was fantastic. Hardly anyone was awake. We were able to follow the torch as it passed from person to person. One participant carried it stretched out in his arms as he moved along the route in his motorized wheelchair. Another was bravely walking, each step made slowly, as he was suffering from Leukemia. He died three days later.

What I witnessed today held only a glimmer of the passion and joy that to me characterizes the Olympic spirit. Once again the torch was passing close to my flat (the benefits of living in a big city) and I was able to easily wander down to the route. However, it was snowing (three days ago it was sunny and in the 60s), which made it beautiful but logistically challenging in a city that gets bogged-down when it rains. Our neighborhood, Notting Hill was showing its best colors by featuring dancers from the Carnival Parade which takes place each August. The dancers looked beautiful but only a few of them looked happy. Too cold, too wet, too many police.

There were more police than observers along the route. But I understand why. Protesters everywhere. It appeared as though the Pope was coming along in his motorized bullet-proof carriage but no, it was just the torch bearer surrounded by police on foot, police on bicycles, police on motorcycles, police in cars, police in vans, police in buses. The only thing missing were police helicopters.

The most dramatic moment was when the next torch bearer jumped out of one of the vans in front of us, ran down the road to take his turn carrying the torch and then it appeared that protesters ran into the streets. Cops starting jumping out of vans, people started running into the street, sirens started blaring. I was actually afraid for myself and the young family next to me as the drama was moving closer to our position. A police van nearly drove us off the sidewalk as it determined we were standing in the best place to pull aside. When the torch passed I waved but believe me I was the only one waving (free-spirited act or sheer lunacy?) A few official vehicles followed the torch bearer and I attempted to bring some Olympic spirit by waving at the athletes and future torch-bearers inside each bus. They only distractedly waved back as they too were focused on the police scene around us.
But it all ended with a reminder of that first torch relay I witnessed in San Francisco. The torch bearer I saw earlier jump out of the van had finished his leg of the relay and jumped back on the bus now in front of us. He was absolutely glowing. He kept trying to suppress his smiles but I could see he had been touched by the spirit of the Olympics and despite himself couldn't help smiling ear to ear. Now that is the Olympic spirit.