Friday, April 11, 2008

Sneak Peak Inside The Olympic Torch Relay In San Francisco

Hello all! Sorry for my MIA status... lame excuses as always: busy, tired, work, school (darn, I'm done with school, can't use that one anymore...)

ANYway... life's been busy, you know how it goes.

I don't even have time for a real post today... but luckily I have something EVEN BETTER for you all to enjoy!!

My friend Susan wrote an essay a few months ago, and, being the kick-ass writer and all around awesome person that she is, she was selected to be an OLYMPIC TORCH BEARER (!!!) for the flame's ONLY stop in the US. Is that the coolest thing you ever heard or what???

She got to carry the OLYMPIC FLAME!!!!! In her VERY OWN HANDS!!! I am so beyond jealous!

Anyway, I'm not sure if people in the rest of the country heard about all the hoopla that went on in SF the day of the relay, but it was quite intense. A veritable game of cat and mouse with torch bearers, and police officers, and FBI agents, and spectators, and protesters. And a whole media circus to go along with it! San Francisco: never a dull moment.

Susan sent out an email this morning sharing an "inside" perspective from the day... and she said I could pass it on to ALL of the Internet! I have the coolest friends ever.


Yesterday was an amazing experience and a day I will never forget. It was such an honor to be part of the Olympic torch relay and represent all the Olympic athletes in the US. I'm was so pleased that all the 80 torchbearers were able to take part and complete their relay leg without a hitch (especially after seeing what happened in London and Paris). There were a lot of emotions felt by all the torchbearers leading up to the relay- excitement, hope, fear for safety, concern that we wouldn't be able to run with the torch , etc. However, while we were on the bus waiting to run with the torch there was nothing but excitement among us and the feeling of being part of something really momentous.

The day started when I arrived at the Hilton in SF. We met at the grand ballroom and were told to bring nothing with us (no cell phones, wallets, etc). After speeches from Mayor Newsom and Peter Uberroff (olympic committee chair), we were given our assignments of where we would be running on the course. They announced that we would be running in pairs holding the torch together (we had 80 runners and they wanted to make sure we all got a chance to run). This was the first Olympic torch relay that was done completely by running in pairs. The Hilton provided us with phones so that we could call friends and family with the location of where we'd be on the course (which didn't really matter since the route would soon change).

We were at the Hilton for a while and got a chance to meet the other torchbearers. There were a lot of interesting people and several former and current Olympians, along with Dean Karnazes, the ultra marathon man and Girls on the Run board member. Security was very tight and we were lead down a back stair case to the street which was completely barricaded with police. We got on a bus and waited there for an hour or more. Eventually Mayor Newsom got on the bus and indicated that the opening ceremony had gone well but there were thousands of people blocking the torch route over to the embarcadero. They wanted to make sure they could secure our safety and give everyone the opportunity to run with the torch. Newsom then indicated that we'd be moving the course and would be running down at the Marina instead of the embarcadero. No one had phones, so we couldn't notify anyone of the route change which was disappointing to realize that our friends/family wouldn't be seeing us. However, the spirits of the torchbearers remained high as we were excited at the opportunity to hold the torch that represented so many US athletes.

The convoy buses took off with numerous police on motor cycles, bikes, etc. Once we reached Van Ness and Pine, they started to drop off the torchbearers onto Van Ness. Initially it was pretty amazing that there were no barricades and ordinary SF citizens were coming up and taking pictures with the torchbearers (the way a torch run should be). As we moved down Van Ness, the crowds started to form and police on motorcycles were seen on each side street, ready to deploy if needed. I was runner # 18 and my partner was Peter Chi (part of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics). We were let out of the bus on Van Ness at Francisco and ran or rather jogged pretty slowly around the corner on to Bay. It was a pretty surreal moment, holding the torch waiting for ours to be lit by the pair of runners before us. Things started to get a little crazy waiting there for the torch runners, as the crowds were filling into the streets.

We knew it was getting more intense as one of the cops screamed we need back up now, watch our backs. At that moment a muni bus pulled up and 35 cops in riot gear ran out to surround the sidewalks. Shortly thereafter, we were surrounded by running cops, cops on bikes and cops on motorcycles as we ran with the torch. After about two blocks we reached the next runner and lit their torch and then hopped back on the convoy bus. Once on the bus we learned that one of the earlier torch bearers had taken a tibetan flag out of her shirt and started waving it and trying to take the torch from her partner. The police left her on the side of the road and she wasn't allowed back on the bus.

Our line of about 30 car/buses surrounded by police on motorcycles was pretty slow moving down the marina and then up the ramp to the Golden Gate Bridge. Former Mayor Willie Brown and NFl player Herschel Walker ran the last leg to the bridge. After the torch was back on the bus, we took off down 19th avenue to San Francisco Airport where the closing ceremonies had been moved it (originally it was supposed to be at Justin Herman Plaza). I've never seen so many cops in SF and something pulled off so seamlessly for a last minute plan. I felt badly for the people trying to get to the airport as our convoy blocked traffic on the ramp to the airport.

Once on the bus to the airport, the torchbearers started to get very hungry- they didn't feed us all day. We arrived at the airport through a side door, then through airport security (we even had to take our shoes off!). I started talking to the torchbearer next to me which unbeknown to me was Herschel Walker (former nfl player, I was wondering why everyone wanted to take my picture with him, ha!). Mayor Newsom and others spoke at the brief closing ceremonies, we took a group picture and then headed back on the bus (where they had some airline snacks for us).

We arrived back in the Hilton around 6pm, received our own torch and then hopped on the bus to go to the Giants baseball game. We were supposed to be recognized on the field before the game but we got there too late. Marilyn King (former Olympian) threw the first pitch. We were ushered to a private suite at the Giants game, but I still needed to get my brother Paul who was coming to the game as my guest. One of the Giants staff members escorted me out to get Paul (we were stopped numerous times by people that wanted to take pictures of me and the torch- it was pretty amazing how mesmerized people were to see it and how many people wanted to take pictures of me with the torch). There was a lot of disappointment from people that didn't get to see the torch relay earlier in the day. After getting Paul, the Giant's staff member offered us tickets to sit in the Giants' COO Larry Baer's section (the first row next to the Giant's dugout right near home plate). Larry sat with us for a while and graciously let us order whatever we wanted to eat. We watched the rest of the game with Marilyn King and her son and the giants won in the bottom of the 9th.

Paul and I caught the bus home and several people on the bus noticed the torch and wanted to take pictures of me with the torch. It was a pretty funny experience and I made lots of new friends on the bus. One of the first people to notice the torch was a grandfather and his grandson who were visiting SF- it made their day to see it up close since they had missed it earlier in the day waiting along the proposed torch route.

All in all, it was a really unforgettable day. While it was disappointing that friends, family and most of the people in SF along the proposed torch route didn't get to see us running with the torch, the day went off very smoothly and no one was hurt. I was very impressed by the coordination of the last minute route change and that things went along so seamlessly.

The torch is at home if anyone wants to see it, it's really beautiful and nice that they gave us one to keep.

I'm still trying to round up pictures but here are some from the chopper:

click on a day in pictures, chopper 11 pics- sf olympic torch relay


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