Unbelievably, the Olympic opening ceremony takes place two weeks today, and every day we will see thousands of people turn out to see the Olympic torch pass through their neighbourhood. Even amidst last minute concerns about security and the weather, there is still a growing excitement about what the first two weeks of August will bring, both in terms of sporting achievement and national esprit de corps.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the run up to the Games proper, has been the torch relay which has been taking place over the whole country over the last 56 days. By the time the Olympic flame reaches the Olympic Stadium on 27 July it will have been carried by 8000 torchbearers and will have travelled within an hour of 95 per cent of people in the UK.
Everywhere the torch has been it has been greeted with the waves of enthusiastic crowds who have been keen to take the opportunity to proudly celebrate the arrival of the torch in their local area. During a year when the economic news appears to grow worse and worse it appears that people still want to get together to “celebrate” life and community life, even in the midst of troubled times.
I caught up with the flame in Leeds a few weeks ago and was amazed that at 7am on a cold and windy morning in a northern city, the torch had managed to draw a crowd of several thousands. Michael Healey, 71, was the first torchbearer of the day, having been chosen for the honour as a result of his years of hard work and dedication to the EBCC Kid’s Saturday Bike Club, which has benefitted thousands of children across West Yorkshire.
As the torch was lit on the steps of Leeds Town Hall and the theme music from “Chariots of Fire” blared through the speakers, there was a genuine sense of excitement in the crowd, and as the torch departed through the city centre it was avidly pursued by people trying to grab photos and videos whilst not falling over!
It’s also interesting to talk to some of the people who have carried the torch on part of its journey. Jerry Ward, 53, is a prime example of some of the extraordinary characters who have been proudly carrying the torch. An ex RAF and commercial airline pilot who is paralysed from the neck down after a freak accident in Mexico 5 years ago, Jerry, aided by his son Sam, carried the torch, attached to his chin-propelled wheelchair, down Keighley High Street to the adoring cheers of 15000-20000 people. He told me that it was a highly emotional experience listening to the inspirational stories of the dozen or so torchbearers, as they all shared the reasons why they were there on the convoy bus taking them to the start of the route.
Whatever the reasons people continue to turn out to see the torch in their thousands what we have seen is an outpouring of excitement about the idea of the Olympics, and the crowds’ excitement is an indication of how Britain has embraced the chance to celebrate, despite, and because, of the tough economic times.
Matthew Rhodes is director of strategy and relationships at British Future. Watch his short video of the torch in Leeds below:
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