It’s difficult to imagine that all of the anticipation and excitement that has been brewing since the initial announcement that the Olympic Torch would be passing through Chestermere could be crammed into just a few hours.
Check that, not even a few hours. Though the crowd was bubbling all morning, nothing could match the breathless climax of Marla Forth carrying the torch through its final leg, with bystanders pumping their legs at full-bore to keep up as she entered John Peake Park. In those few moments, the furor grabbed a tight hold on everyone present – residents, visitors, and the runners themselves – and came to a head when Forth made her way onstage to light the cauldron.
“It was exhilarating,” said an elated Forth. “I would say this tops any other thrill … this was incredible, to see everybody out.”
The runners kept up a brisk pace from the get-go, preceded by an Olympic-style procession that signified that the torch would be arriving momentarily. The arrival of the convoy whipped bystanders into a near-frenzy, and the fervour became palpable as the runners appeared in sight.
“I don’t think I can compare this to anything I’ve been a part of,” said Cheryl Merritt, a torch bearer. “It was the longest and the fastest 300 meters of my life.”
“[It went] too fast – I actually slowed down at the end,” laughed Susan Arnison, who also ran with the flame. “I wanted to enjoy it a bit more … it’s an absolute honour.”
There were, of course, activities before the relay got underway. Sponsors such as Coca-Cola and RBC had their attractions, as well as local entertainment such as the Keister Family Fiddlers. The events prepped the crowd for the flame, which had been lit in Olympia, Greece on Oct. 22 before making its way to Southern Alberta on Day 82.
It was a surreal experience to be bestowed such an honour, said Forth.
“I expected it would be a celebrity, or a major sports figure,” she said on being chosen to run the final leg in Chestermere’s relay. “It was really extra thrilling to choose someone who was just like everyone else.”
Even after the lighting of the cauldron, the ceremony was far from over. Musical performances continued, not the least of which coming from the Chestermere High School band, and a number of special guests had the opportunity to address those in attendance.
“Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve had a rowdy crowd,” Crowfoot Member of Parliament Kevin Sorenson said. “But I think today the spirit is about the best here that I’ve seen anywhere throughout the riding of Crowfoot.”
“This flame is igniting the passion and hearts of all us,” continued national Minister of Sport Gary Lunn. “…We’re ready to cheer on our athletes as they win gold here at home in Canada in a few weeks from now.”
Mayor Patricia Matthews also accepted a plaque on behalf of the Town, a gift that reflected the spirit and commitment as a host community for the Torch Relay.
“Honestly, I don’t think anything can compare to this event,” she said, while also recognizing the efforts of Town Council and introducing Chestermere’s Olympians. “This is something we’ve never had in the past … it’s a completely unique event, and an experience we’ll never have again.”
And, as quickly as it had come, it left. The sheer efficiency with which the stages, sound equipment, and everything else that goes into making an Olympic Torch Relay possible were dismantled and packed for the next stop was staggering.
What did happen to the city in those few hours on a Tuesday afternoon, however, was nothing short of genuinely unifying.
“It’s an amazing community,” said Forth. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’ve loved it from the day we moved here.”
The flame’s travel across the country will total over 45,000 kilometres by the time it finishes its 106-day journey on Feb. 12 in Vancouver. The cross-Canada trip will have included 189 total celebrations when it’s said and done, with 12,000 being fortunate enough to carry the Olympic flame.