EDvent/ Edmonton's Olympic Torch Relay 2010

It may not be Vancouver, but for a moment or two it felt like it!

BY EMIL TIEDEMANN

SO it wasn't the actual Winter Olympics itself, but it was the next best thing! The official Olympic flame touched down in Edmonton yesterday (January 13th) for the traditional torch relay that'll eventually come to an end in Vancouver just in time for the kickoff of the 2010 Winter Olympics (February 12-28th).

Sir Winston Churchill Square was electrified that evening, as thousands of Edmontonians were momentarily connected with a mutual pride for our brief visitor. The flame lit up the Square like almost nothing else could, boasting a history that stretches more than 80 years of global journies and worldly bearers. And for just a few hours on Wednesday, Edmonton shared in that glorious legacy.

Commemorating the theft of fire from Greek God Zeus by Titan Prometheus, who--according to Greek mythology--gave it to the mortals, the flame was kept alive throughout the ancient Olympics celebrations.

In 1928 the tradition was reintroduced during the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, where the flame was re-lit for the "modern" Games for the first time. But the actual torch relay itself wasn't introduced until the controversial Berlin Summer Olympics (a.k.a. "Nazi Olympics") in 1936, by German sports administrator Dr. Carl Diem.

The 2010 Olympics' relay was ignited back on October 30, 2009 in Victoria, B.C., and thus began a full loop of the entire nation (the longest single-country relay in Olympic history/ see route above), headed then to the Territories, the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and then the Prairies, before returning to the West coast. In those first 2-1/2 months the flame has been shouldered by everyone from Shania Twain (Timmons, Ontario) to Sidney Crosby (Halifax, Nova Scotia), and numerous former Canadian Olympians.

The flame left Lloydminster early Wednesday morning and headed for the capital region, starting in Sherwood Park before its official Edmonton relay began at Hawrelak Park at 5PM. Locals dressed in red (as part of the city's "Paint the Town Red" campaign) and aligned city streets throughout the two hours of relay to cheer on the 50 torchbearers (starting with Owen Proctor) who had the honour of experiencing the tradition first-hand.

"This is already incredible, this is overwhelming, this response is fantastic," declared Proctor after he seized the flame at Hawrelak. "We had people all the way up & down Groat Road, five, ten people deep, we had fire fighters waving flags, military personnel."

For a complete list of Wednesday's torchbearers click here, and for a map of the complete Edmonton relay route click here.

From Hawrelak the flame proceeded towards the Butterdome, and from there it was carried down Whyte Ave. and then over the Walterdale Bridge to the Legislature by about 6:00 in the evening. It then headed to Victoria Promenade and onto Jasper Ave., before its final destination at a buzzing Churchill Square, where a below-zero torch party had erupted.

Choppers hovered above the Square, shining giant spotlights down on the chilly crowd, drenched in red and Olympic wear. Organizers strolled the grounds handing out free momentos and souvenirs for the special occasion, including blow-up bangers, tambourines, cheer flags, and bottles of Coke Zero.

Emcees busied the mic atop the makeshift stage right in front of the Stanley A. Milner Library, in between drummers, singers, and some sorta circus-like hoola-hoop act that most people weren't even paying attention to. We were all too busy keeping an eye out for the flame. You could almost feel the anticipation in the air...if our skin wasn't so numb from the prolonged chilly temperature.

Finally, at almost exactly 7PM, Edmonton's own former Olympian Doreen Ryan (1960/1964) (pictured) proudly hoisted the torch into the air at Churchill; camera flashes were amuck, cheers were tenfold, and the thousands of locals who dared the crisp night were humbled by this sublime tradition in our own backyard.

Ryan sprinted onto the awaiting stage and bowed her torch and flame to the city's own cauldron, which bursted into light. It all happened so fast, and was over in a flash. But the travelling, the cold, the waiting...it was all worth that momentary glimpse of the nation's Olympic fever.

Shortly after the lighting of the cauldron, Aboriginal women's contemporary a capella trio Asani gave one of the most memorable renditions of our National Anthem I had ever heard, fusing what I assume was throat singing in between those know-by-heart lyrics of "O Canada!" Mayor Stephen Mandel, who bragged that this was Canada's largest relay celebration yet, then accepted one of the official 2010 Winter Olympics torches on behalf of the city, as the likes of Ryan and NDP leader Jack Layton looked on.

My sister Carrie and I paraded the Square for about half an hour before we left the area, skipping out on scheduled performances by Edmonton's own Cadence Weapon and The Be Arthurs, as well as a fireworks show. But it was that humble, yet transcendent flame that we had come out for, and not the accompanying hoopla. That was all just icing on the cake.

The video below was shot by Carrie Tiedemann, featuring footage of former Olympic skater Doreen Ryan carrying the torch to the cauldron at Sir Winston Churchill Square (January 13, 2010).

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