In Medicine Hat, I'm not used to being in a crowd of thousands, so I felt a little out of place in Whistler tonight, waiting for the Olympic torch to arrive. Then again, Whistler wasn't really used to these crowds, either - the Olympic carnival appeared overnight from behind tents and construction barriers, and more than once I saw a veteran skier stop and puzzle over an alley he knew, which had somehow disappeared.
The concert was going full strength, but I slipped out of the throng and walked out along the perimeter of the Village. Even on the outskirts, you could tell something big was happening, as lights flooded the side of the mountain where a torchbearer was scheduled to ski right into the village. But off in the other direction, a different light caught my eye. Police lights, moving slowly, winding through the venerable pines. At once, I realised that this might be my chance for a better view, and I circled around to the other end of the park. What I arrived upon was a beautiful sight - the staging ground for the torchbearers, all of them shaking with excitement, glowing with pride as they posed for picture after picture, be it with their oldest childhood friends, or a flock of children that ran in from off the sidewalk. A few minutes after, the children were hurried aside, and off in the distance, behind a large procession, a flame appeared. Brighter than I expected, I felt myself warming up just looking at it.
Beaming like a searchlight, the one bearer handed it off to the other, and I couldn't do anything but smile stupidly as I watched him run off along his path. A moment later, it occurred to me that he wasn't really running that quickly. In fact, I'd probably be able to catch up with him. I didn't think much more after that point - I was off and tearing down the street, cheering all the way. The torch was passed off two more times, at which point the procession turned right into Whistler village. The police car escort had disappeared, replaced by a crowd of people. But everyone understood what had to happen - the torchbearer was on a mission, and no one wanted to stand in the way. The crowd parted before the light like a dim shadow, letting the torchbearer run. And like a shadow, the crowd filled in behind him, wanting to look just a little longer at this powerful symbol.
By this point, I was getting into my rhythm. When I could, I ran right alongside the torch, a pace behind to let the cameras have their picture. When the crowd pushed in, I leapt to higher ground, circling along the higher walkways, where kitchen staff were pouring out of restaurants to see the torch as it passed. Then, I'd fall back into position along the straightaway. I almost lost the torch as it crossed a narrow and congested footbridge, when it seemed that the only way around was to go under the bridge, through the uncontrolled intersection, and around an entire hotel. But, I figured I've run longer distances for worse reasons. With only a single honk (which may have even been a honk of support, really), I got through, and rejoined the party.
In this manner, I followed the torch all the way outside the village again, and out onto the base of the mountain, where they passed the torch to a pack of snowmobilers. While they started up the engines, and made sure everyone was clear, I got my breath. I'd follow further behind for a bit, just to see them off, until I hit the security line. After a few hundred metres, I realised there was no security line, because no one was worried about anyone running up a ski hill in dress shoes. I was sinking in to my knees in the heavy powderbase, and just about to wave the snowmobile goodbye, when I realised that they weren't going much further - just up to that one ledge, where the skier was waiting. And so, I dug in and kept running.
I was quite a distance away from the torch at this point, but the skier was taking his time for the cameras in receiving the torch, as well he should - the thousands of people I'd mentioned earlier were all below, cheering him on as the spotlights and cameras followed his every move. I made it to the top of the hill just in time to see him on his trip down, joining the exuberant crowd below, and pass the torch to the next generation - Trevor Allison, a local high school student attempting to represent Canada in the London 2012 Summer Games. The cauldron was lit, the crowd rejoiced, and the flame would rest for a few hours before continuing on to Vancouver in the morning. All that was left for me to do was to slide down the ski hill in my shoes, and sneak into the ski lodge through the service entrance. Inside, the patrons were singing "O Canada" as best they could after a long afternoon of drinking. On the television, two hockey players were tearing at each other's jerseys, their gloves on the ice. I slipped out through the main entrance, and rejoined the vast crowd which I'd escaped at the beginning of the evening, and made my way back to the hotel.
The games haven't even begun yet, but I suspect I've already experienced my defining Olympic moment on that ski hill. There I was, running. I was away from the cameras and the crowds that didn't know I was there. I couldn't see the goal, nor did I even know if there was one. I had no proper equipment, or even training... but I ran. I ran because I didn't want everyone else to have all the fun. I ran because I didn't want to be beaten by an obstacle I knew I could overcome. I ran because that was its own reward, and its own celebration.
I ran, because I could. A simple motivation, but it's one that kept us all running for thousands of years already.
Now let the games begin.