THE Olympic torch returns to Scotland today for its final visit ahead of the Games. The Scotsman was the only newspaper invited behind the scenes during the tour north of the Border. Claire Smith found out what it has taken to keep the show on the road
IN one of the kitchens of Scone Palace, with antlers hung on the walls and gleaming pots over the range, a group of people wearing white tracksuits are waiting for their big moment. Young and old, these are the runners who are about to take part in a historic journey as the bearers of the Olympic flame.
There are 8,000 runners in the 70-day Olympic relay and The Scotsman was invited behind the scenes at the section of the journey, which goes from Scone to Dundee. “It is going to be something special, something you have never experienced and will never experience again,” says Peter Nugent, an events management student who is a shuttle host working for Locog – the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.
There is a hush as Nugent holds up one of the magic torches. Every runner gets their own Olympic torch, coated in gold, with 8,000 perforations which represent each of the people taking part in the journey. Runners all have the right to buy their torch – at a cost of £200 – and some have chosen to then sell them on the highest bidder, with prices of £4,000-£5,000 being paid currently on auction website eBay.
There are strict rules about how to behave while you are a bearer of the sacred flame. Each bearer carries the flame for about 300 metres. They are dropped off by the shuttle bus at the front of the advance convoy, at a spot marked with a number, and will wait until the previous runner appears along the road.
It is recommended that the runners take their time, at a fast walk or slow jog. While it is fine to pose for photographs with passers by, the runners must never let go of the torch.
Next it’s time to demonstrate “The Kiss” – the moment when the flame passes from one runner to the next. Peter shows how one of the shuttle team turns on the gas canister at the core of each torch, and how to hold it at a right angle against the next runner’s torch so theirs is lit. The runner who has just finished their 300m stint is then picked up by a shuttle bus bringing up the rear.
A group of burly runners from the Metropolitan Police jog alongside the torch at all times and they switch on the gas, help orchestrate the handover and act as bodyguards. All the time, the flame is protected, and should it go out it can be relit from the mother flame held in a Davy lamp. tThe next day’s tour starts with the first torch being lit from the lamp.
Kevin Stewart, a part-time scaffolder and cycling coach from Dundee, who competed for Scotland in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, was relishing his opportunity to carry the torch as one of the Bank of Scotland’s 82 Local Heroes. He says: “It is fantastic just to be part of the whole thing. It is the world’s biggest sporting event – so just to play a part in that is amazing. I am really proud to do it.”
Among today’s participants – there are about 100 on each day of the relay – is a torch bearer team made up of ten pupils from Perth Academy. Later, the whole school travels to North Inch Park in Perth to watch the flame arrive in the city.
Rector Andy Smith says: “About February, I got a phone call asking the school to take part. They told me I had until lunchtime to make a decision, but I said, ‘I don’t need to think about it. We would love to do it.’ ”
The runners encompass all ages, from 14-year-old Reagan Doig, who hopes to compete in the Paralympics in Brazil as a swimmer to George Stewart, a sprightly 92-year-old from Scone, who won the World Championships of Veteran Tennis at the tender age of 85. George says he hopes people who watch the relay will be encouraged to take part in sport. “I certainly hope so. It is one of the legacies of the Olympics that more people will take part in sport and keep up with it.”
Preparations over, it is time to jump on the bus. The Scotsman joins the warm-up convoy, which travels ahead of the flame, entertaining the crowds. We are on board a vintage Maltese bus, clad in Bank of Scotland livery. And we’re off. Trundling along the drive of the Palace, which is lined with people waving flags and home-made Olympic torches and making full use of Bank of Scotland ribbons, Samsung blow-up rattles and Coca-Cola tambourines.
Samsung, Coca-Cola and the Bank of Scotland are the three “presenting partners” of the relay – which means they support the torch in its journey around the UK and get to lend their corporate logos to the spectacle. South of the Border, the presenting partner is Lloyds TSB, now part of the same organisation as Bank of Scotland.
It is quite something, being on the bus. People are standing on street corners, waving flags, cheering. Children run along pavements, residents hang out of first-floor windows and people in wheelchairs and invalid scooters wait in their front gardens.
Inside the bus, Connor Van Nostrand, an immersive digital media specialist from Texas, is watching the whole thing unfold on a screen attached to 360 degree cameras on the bus roof. As James Brown pumps out of the sound system, Gavin May, an MC from London, is on the roof yelling at the crowd: “You’re about to see the amazing Olympic Flame.”
Kendra J Horsburgh, a professional dancer from Luxembourg, is also part of the 22-strong Bank of Scotland performing team, the Flame Followers. She leaps off the slow-moving bus at intervals, then dances and cartwheels among the crowd and hands out blue and purple ribbons branded with the logo of the bank.
Before we know it, we’re at the Celebration Stop in North Inch Park in Perth, where folk singer Dougie Maclean is singing The Things We Love – a song recrafted to fit the Olympic celebrations. Schoolchildren from all over the country, including those from Perth Academy, who are here in force, have been learning the words.
The waiting crowds go wild as the ten pupils from the Academy run the flame around the stage. Afterwards, Maclean says: “I love the whole concept of the torch. People are trying to politicise it but actually it is a metaphor for humanity and for people getting together and that is a really amazing thing. It is wonderful for people to feel involved.”
Sarah Cran, acting head of sponsorship for Lloyds, tells me how much she has enjoyed the Scottish leg of the Olympic tour, which has so far attracted 400,000 people to witness its journey.
“It has been absolutely incredible,” she says. “The reaction across the whole country has been amazing. In some of the smallest places, like Drumnadrochit, there were huge crowds. In Stornoway, the whole community was out in force.”
Communities also stand to benefit from being touched by the torch. Lloyds Banking Group, which has sponsored Stage Your Own Games events at schools, is giving £5,000 grants to community groups in each area the torch passes through. Public gatherings and evening concerts have also been a feature of the relay, giving thousands of people the chance to share the Olympic magic in what for most is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Olympic flame.
In Dundee, on the last leg of our relay, 22,000 people are gathered in Baxter Park GP, as sports injury specialist Jill Roche runs through the crowded streets with people shouting “C’mon Jill”. She hands the torch to 12-year-old Kian Steel, a King’s Park School pupil who performs the last leg of the run before lighting the Olympic Cauldron, which will keep the flame burning tonight in Dundee. Bob Duncan, Lord Provost of Dundee, announces to a cheering crowd. “Fantastic. Dundee. The Games are yours.”
• Today the Olympic torch tour starts in Dumfries at 7.52am, calling at Annan at 8.50am, Eastriggs at 9.09am and Gretna at 9.29am before returning to England.
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