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Reflecting on the Olympic torch's six-day relay through Wales

Category: Wales

Published: 31st May 2012 08:43:00

Perhaps there is someone out there who can make the case that the Olympic torch relay's six-day visit to Wales was anything other than an unmitigated success.

Enormous crowds, uncynical enthusiasm and temperatures more typical of Athens itself made for a procession around the country that the organisers - and those working in Wales' tourism industry - could only have dreamed of.

I was lucky enough to follow its journey around Wales, through the industrial south, then heading up into the Welsh speaking heartlands of Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Anglesey before turning east along the north Wales coast and, finally, dropping south for its exit from the country at Welshpool.

I kept an open mind about a tradition that was started by the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and supposedly represents Prometheus's theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus.

However, at my first stop at Big Pit in Blaenavon there were hundreds of enthusiastic, uncynical children who shared none of my concerns.

Yes, the weather helped but I lost count of the number of people who said to me it was a 'once in a lifetime opportunity'”

Unexpectedly, it proved to be a moving moment seeing the lit flame carried for the first time.

Or was it just the reaction of the children that was tweaking at my heart strings?

There had been rumours of possible protests, possibly in some of the Welsh speaking areas.

The only protest I came across was two guys in Wrexham town centre who had made a banner pointing out Wales was not represented on the Union flag.

They also made a very reasonable point about how the Olympic mountain biking could have taken place at some of the existing world class venues in Wales rather than at a purpose built track in south east England.

I saw them again later walking with their banner around Wrexham's Guildhall where an incredible number of people had risen from their beds at a ludicrously early hour to greet the torch.

They must have felt like two swimmers heading into a tide while carrying a shot putt.

There was also a discordant note from some in Cwmbran, which was bypassed by the torch unlike some of its smaller neighbours, such as Pontypool.

A town with few iconic sights maybe, but it has a population approaching 50,000 and is the biggest centre of commerce and population in Torfaen.

And I came across a woman in Beaumaris on Anglesey who came out to watch the torch but questioned the cost of the relay at a time of recession.

The in-your-face commercialism and branding from the main sponsors at each stop would also not have pleased those who hoped to witness more Olympian ideals on show.

But the sceptics were in a tiny minority and the crowds were impressive, even overwhelming at times.

Take this snapshot for example: 20,000 in Haverfordwest, 25,000 in Caerphilly and about one-third of Aberystwyth's population at Vicarage Fields for one of the evening torch concerts.

Local councils estimated around 700,000 people turned out throughout Wales.

The Welsh Local Government Association's chief executive Steve Thomas said Wales had been "innovative in the ways in which the torch has travelled".

It has been a "great opportunity to celebrate the inspiring stories of the fantastic work that the torch bearers have done in order to be nominated to carry the torch across Wales", he added.

Yes, the weather helped but I lost count of the number of people who said to me it was a "once in a lifetime opportunity".

It became a catchphrase but was probably true for all but the youngest torch watchers.

My personal highlights included interviewing a man who is associated with all that is good about the Olympics, five times gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave, who was at a Blue Peter event in Caerphilly.

But the real highlight was the uplifting delight and enthusiasm of the spectators and the torchbearers themselves, some of whom had incredible tales of hardship and courage.

Surely it was all worth it for that alone.

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BBC News, 2012. Reflecting on the Olympic torch's six-day relay through Wales [Online] (Updated 31st May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1432006/Reflecting-on-the-Olympic-torchs-six-day-relay-through-Wales [Accessed 30th Aug 2014]

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