Olympic Torch Bearer Hayley McLeod Concludes Relay in Vancouver
Olympic torch bearer #121 14-year-old Hayley McLeod took the stage alone to belt out a rousing acapella rendition of "O Canada" at a ceremony announcing the route 12,000 (chosen from an initial pool of 1.1 million applicants) would wind across Canada to end at the 21st Vancouver Games.
She was greeted with boisterous applause by those in the audience including attendees VANOC CEO John Furlong, Catriona Lemay Doan, and BC Premier Gordon Campbell, whom she'd meet again this morning, February 12th, 2010 in CTV's studios before her run.
A Day in the Life of an Olympic Torch Bearer
Now, many months later, the lottery, skill-testing question and essay on the subject of how to make the world a better place behind her, she dons the white-and-green track suit, pulls on a white toque and red maple leaf mittens and starts one of the most memorable days of her life, in the dark.
It is 6:30 am, 6 hours before her 3 minutes of fame, and a few minutes en route to reflect on the momentousness of the honour and the pressure to deliver the torch in its final hours across the country, 45,000 kilometres from its touchdown on Canadian soil October 30th.
At the 10:30 am orientation session at Thunderbird Community Centre in Burnaby where she'll get her torch, McLeod is reminded that her essay represents a non-traditional approach to the selection process, honoring runners for the vision of the future rather than deeds in the past. McLeod wrote the essay with her father's help under a starry summer night in Deep Cove, beside calmer waters.
The Grade 9 Argyle Secondary School student, not unaware of the controversy surrounding the Games' ballooning budget, use of First Nations' land, appropriation of funds from anti-poverty, arts, and education programs and other less-than-sportsmanlike activity says, "I think they could have spent less money, but what's important now is that the world's coming together to enjoy the spirit, be at peace, and have fun - and I'm a part of that."
McLeod, though one of the youngest in the relay, is no stranger to the spotlight as she has been singing since the age of 7 with the Vancouver Opera, an apple close to the tree given she is the daughter of musicians and teachers Rob and Pam McLeod. Does she have a case of stage fright now that millions are watching live?
At 12:30 pm she takes it all in stride despite the occasional bout of nerves and the realization that she's "going to be on TV in front of the entire world" and likely in clips on YouTube for long after the 3-minute run is a memory.
She grins ear to ear as she winds through giddy crowds running the 300 metres from West 2nd Ave and Alberta to the Granville Island train station at the Olympic Village Skytrain stop. Flanked by RCMP security, RBC and Coke sponsor convoys working the crowd, police on horseback and motorcycle, and throngs of red-and-white clad nationalists, she hoists her Bombardier torch high to "kiss" the flame held by her successor.
Olympic Torch-Bearing Celebrities
Running in a pack with Lui Passaglia of the BC Lions, McLeod passed the torch to Barbara Wagner, gold medal winner in the 1960 Olympic pairs skating competition, celebrating her 50th anniversary on this historic day.
Who would McLeod most like to run into on the route? Fellow torch bearers Arnold Swarzenegger, Sarah McLachlan, and Michael Buble. Earlier this morning the fathers of Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky, Rolly and Walter respectively, also carried the flame as did former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan. Current Mayor Gregor Robinson joined McLeod for a group shot sporting a Roberto Luongo jersey.
TransCanada Olympic Torch Spectators
At 1pm, overwhelmed by the tourists flocking to have their photos taken with her, McLeod says breathlessly but buoyant, "I've never had that many strangers cheering me on, taking my picture and calling my name - it's overwhelming."
McLeod's family watching in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and BC call with congratulations, including her 100-year-old great grandmother and her great aunt Jenny Wingerson, a former pentathelete (high jump, 200-metre sprint, 80-metre hurdles, long jump, shot put) in Tokyo in 1964 and Mexico City in 1968 known as "Canada's darling."
At 2pm, McLeod, one of Canada's darlings today, concludes her day in the 2nd-last shuttle, with only 6 more torch bearers between herself and the conclusion. Then it will resume its journey into BC Place stadium to light the cauldron by a figure who is still a safely-guarded secret and the subject of much speculation.
Just when you think it can't get any better than this, McLeod quips that she's going home to watch her friends perform in the Opening Ceremonies and look forward to her own participation in the Opening Ceremonies of the Paralympic Games exactly a month from today, March 12th.
Some flames are one in a million and, as with this inaugural spirit, refuse to be extinguished. Like that rare comet that shares her namesake (if not spelling), today is a burst of light that began in the dark and streaked through the atmosphere with a startling trail of gold.