By Peter Holmes on 02/11/09 at 5:44 pm
The Vancouver Winter Olympic flame began its epic 45,000-kilometre journey around Canada, as double Olympic triathlon medallist Simon Whitfield lit the torch with speed skater Catriona Le May Doan in front of the British Columbia Legislature after its arrival from Greece and ran the first leg of the relay through Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Whitfield, a Victoria resident where he trains at the Triathlon Canada High Performance Centre, was an obvious choice for the Vancouver Organizing Committee despite being a summer Olympic Games star. Having inspired his country with breathtaking performances in both Sydney and Beijing the triathlon legend is a familiar face within the Victoria community on Vancouver Island having moved there from his native Ontario. His identity as the lead torch bearer had been a well guarded secret in the lead up to the ceremony, however his appearance came as no surprise to many of the local people who took to the streets to welcome the torch to Canada.
Clad in white tracksuits with blue trim and white toques, Le May Doan and Whitfield walked down the legislature lawn, holding the torch in their red mittens, and jogged through the crowd. They then lit the torch held by Olympic rower Silken Laumann and Olympic diver Alexandre Despatie. Whitfield said: “To actually start jogging, that’s when it really hit me, because I have that image in my head of seeing [the Calgary Olympic torch relay] with my parents, seeing the people jogging,”
The flame arrived in Victoria behind schedule after weather delayed its flight from Athens to Canada. It touched down at Victoria International Airport at 8:42 am and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson soon emerged at the steps of the plane to show the waiting crowds. It then was brought into the Inner Harbour aboard a First Nations canoe. The flame, kept safe in a miner’s lantern, was held by a chief. As the canoes pulled up to the dock, elders asked permission of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations to bring the torch ashore. Drumming and singing, the elders walked the torch up to the Legislature for a welcoming ceremony.
Thousands of people, many waving Canadian flags, gathered under the drizzling grey skies on the water-logged legislature lawn to welcome the torch and watch as the first torchbearers carry the flame through the streets of Victoria. By the time the Olympic flame arrives in Vancouver on February 12, it will have been carried 28,000 miles by more than 12,000 people.
Whitfield commented on his blog that all the participating athletes were a little nervous, with lots of jokes about “whatever you do, don’t drop it!”, and followed up on twitter with: “wow, torch is lit, seeing all the kids there was brilliant. what a remarkable experience as the torch heads out across Canada.”
Original story by Inside The Games