Or to be more precise, 10.54am, Gale Street to Hedgemans Road, past Becontree Tube Station. This was to be my stretch of the relay and thus my turn to carry the Olympic Torch.
It is a running joke (no pun intended!) amongst my running buddies that whenever I run on an important day such as a race, the sun comes out and it is unbearably hot. Sunday 22nd July 2012 was to be no exception as Mr Sun merrily shone his rays down on our first proper day of summer.
Jimmy and I made our way to Barking Park for 8.15am, where the torchbearers had been told to meet that morning to collect uniforms and briefing. The other torchbearers were all really lovely people and had achieved all sorts, from fundraising to setting up organisations to just being plain good at sports! The youngest was a girl called Chelsey, just 12 years old with an impressive personal best 800m running time of 2:30. Future Olympian in the making? Maybe!
I was nominated by my old housemate Geoff because of bowling and my intention along with Phil Gleeson (who in my opinion, should also have been in the relay!) to set up a charity for youth bowlers, in addition to the website we already run. We haven’t had a great deal of luck on our side to date, but I am confident that we will succeed.
Once we’d changed into our fetching white tracksuits, it was time for a briefing where we got to hold the torch for the first time. I can confirm that while the torch is not heavy, it is quite long and is tricky to keep steady whilst you’re running. We were also told how not to set our hair on fire, which broke the ice. Briefing done, it was onto the official Torchbearers Bus for us. I waved goodbye to Jimmy and then it was off to join the convey.
I can honestly say that waiting to run with the torch was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d ever done. I was more nervous waiting on the bus for this than I was when I first bowled abroad and more nervous than I was during that frantic 24 hours in Russia when I was stuck without my bowling balls at the World Cup. We all sat on the coach, nervously waving at the crowds of people pointing at us, giving big cheers every time someone was dropped off for their leg.
As we approached my drop off point, I was struck by the crowds of people and it was helpfully pointed out that because I was running past a tube station, I would have a noisy and busy segment of the relay. Just right for calming the nerves. Then I forgot about them because the coach stopped to let me off and I realised that I had a steep hill to run up and everyone else had flat. I bemoaned this out loud and everyone laughed.
Off the coach I went, torch in hand and everyone started cheering. I went over to speak to the policeman who was there to brief me when I spotted Jimmy in the crowd and ran over for a hug. That was the moment when the crowds went mad and now I have a small idea of what it must be like to be in the public eye. I posed and smiled for photos, got pulled into photos, got hugged by strangers, had people trying to touch the torch and rather worrying, had a small baby plonked on my shoulder for a photo; luckily I managed to grab hold of him in time, otherwise I would have been the “torchbearer who dropped a baby” and that is probably not what should be associated with an Olympic Torch Relay. Or even associated with me, for that matter. The lovely policeman briefing me asked if I was nervous. I said “yes” and he gave me a hug. What a lovely man.
The previous runner reached me two minutes ahead of schedule and passed the flame over in the famous “torch kiss”. We posed for photos, I lifted the torch and twirled for the crowd and then nerves gone, I was on my way. I was accompanied by four members of the police dressed in grey who were running with all torchbearers and running more or less a marathon themselves everyday. One of them said to me “take it at your own pace and enjoy, jog if you can, the crowd like it”. I had no intention of walking and ran along to cheers while the same policeman said to me “slow down! You’re going too quick!” Oops. I passed the flame on four minutes ahead of schedule, and got on the pick-up bus with a text from my dad coming through simply saying “well done, you didn’t drop it.” Anyone would think that I was clumsy.
We were dropped back at base camp where I got changed and was reunited with my Olympic Torch, now sitting proudly next to me, before a stop at the pub with my wonderful friends for a well deserved beer. With only a couple of days left, there isn’t much time left to see the torch, but if you get the chance, do take it, the experience and atmosphere is just electric.
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