(Warning. This will be the second post in a row in which I mention ‘getting a bit emotional’. Consider yourselves warned.)
Sport? Nah, not my thing.
So why was I so pleased seven years ago when they announced the Olympics would be coming to London? I was, you know; over the moon. Who knows why. I just was. And on Sunday I got to experience just a little of the magic of the Olympics, as the flame came through my home town.
Funny thing is, when I first heard that the flame was coming through, I wasn’t all that fussed about making the effort to see it, but one of my brothers had seen it in his home town and said how great the atmosphere was. So I went. And boy am I glad I did.
The torch wasn’t due to come down the High Street until just after 12pm, but we arrived at about 11am and it was great to see so many people already beginning to gather.
Crowds beginning to gather an hour before the torch is due
We made our way along the High Street, having an idea in mind about where we’d planned to stand. And sure enough, just as my brother had said, the atmosphere was great. There was a real buzz of excitement. We settled into our chosen spot at the other end of the High Street and soaked in the atmosphere.
The scene from our chosen spot. Still some time to wait, yet.
Okay, so it was drizzly and grey and umbrellas were up and down like yo-yos, but that didn’t spoil it one little bit. (Well, okay, maybe it would have been lovely if it could have been warm and sunny, but it wasn’t and there was nothing anyone could do about that.)
We’d taken up residence pretty much outside my office, which was no accident. When we needed a comfort break I had the office keys in my pocket so snuck in. While I was there I was able to grab a few photos from the upstairs window to get another view.
Crowds still growing. Still half an hour or more to go.
At one point, news filtered through that the parade was running twenty minutes late in Letchworth, so we all had to wait that little bit longer, but soon enough the police bike outriders were seen, and a succession of cars, then the sponsors’ trucks. Each playing music and whipping up support from the crowd. (The Coca-Cola float was giving out bottles of Coke, but I was disappointed to see the Lloyds TSB float wasn’t giving out cash.)
Police riders High Fiving all the kids.
And then the moment came. Here it comes! Just behind the next truck!
Now, I’d read a little about the people chosen to be torchbearers for Stevenage (there’s a list here, if you’re interested) and was pleased when I learned that one of them was someone I know. Well, I say “know”: I know his Mum, as I used to work with her at Land Registry, and for a while the family came to my church so got to know him a little bit then. When I knew Gobi Ranganathan, he was a competitive swimmer, at a regional and national level. As a wheelchair user (as a result of Spina Bifida) he’s been an inspiration to many. He’s since retired from swimming, but didn’t stop there. Instead, he took up para-badminton and is now UK’s no 1 ranked player, ranking 8th in the world. Unfortunately for Gobi, para-badminton is not included in the paralympics, but he was nominated to carry the torch and rightly given the chance.
Of course, we had no idea which section of the Stevenage route he would be doing. So we were utterly delighted when we first saw the torch. It was Gobi. (Warning: this is the bit where I get emotional.)
First sight of the torch. And a local hero.
Seriously, I couldn’t believe how much it meant to see someone I knew, even so vaguely, to be representing his town like this. I felt so proud for him, and especially for his Mum. I’m not going to deny that I got quite tearful as Gobi wheeled the flame down Stevenage’s main High Street.
Gobi Ranganathan, UK’s no 1 para-badminton player, carrying the Olympic Flame through his home town of Stevenage.
As he passed, we followed the route along to the park where the whole parade was stopping for a lunch break. They’d put on some entertainment and sports activities for kids, and the same great buzz was ever-present. We hung around enough to see another torchbearer start of the afternoon’s part of the route, bumped into a few friends, spend some time chatting while our kids played on the playground, then eventually making our way back home. (Stopping off in my office once more to shelter from a bit of a deluge that came along just as we were passing.)
What can I say? I was a delightful day. If the torch is coming near you, and you’d not planned to go along, change your plans.
There’s a great video report from ITV news online. I couldn’t find a way to embed the video on here (I guess that’s restricted for copyright in any case) so you’ll just have to click through to their site to see it. Go on, it’s less than two minutes.