23 May. Olympic torch day

Today was the day that Kathy, Jules’ mum, was carrying the Olympic torch as part of the relay. Although we’d failed to send our nomination in time, the staff  of her local pub, The Hind’s Head in Kingston Bagpuize, had nominated her through the Coca-Cola sponsored places, and she was in.

She thoroughly deserved her place. As a wheelchair-bound athlete (she has a congenital condition which means her hip joints are constantly disintegrating – both have been replaced) she’s been to five paralympics, from Barcelona 1992 to Beijing 2008, and won medals in archery across many disciplines, both team and solo. She was hoping, I think, to go to London 2012, but time was running out and then she fell in the winter and damaged a tendon which set back her training.

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I got up early to beat the heat and did a steady erg to get it out of the way, while Jules sewed up the side of my banner to make “pockets” for the canes we were using as poles. After a little breakfast we piled into the car and headed down to Wroughton. I found a little cul-de-sac to leave the car in and we wandered over to our vantage point, just after the right turn the relay would make in the middle of the village. Graham (Jules’ brother) and his girlfriend Vicky were already waiting there. It was only 11am, and the torch wasn’t due for at least another hour. We were keen!

We unfurled the banner and propped it up against a convenient utilities building. Immediately, a photographer from the Swindon Advertiser spotted it and came over, took our photos and wrote our names down (although I don’t think we appeared in the paper in the end). The local BBC radio station was here too, and asked Graham and Jules if they could interview them closer to the time. (In the end, their link-up broke so the interview never happened, much to Graham’s relief).

We stood about in the heat and sipped our water. The crowds grew ever bigger so I slipped across the road to get better photos of the occasion, and then, at about 12 o’clock, the first bits of the cavalcade came through – mostly police motorbikes and so on, geeing the crowd up as they went. We had the banner out at this point, and I had been slightly concerned about my use of the Olympic rings on it – would the banner be confiscated? After all, they are now a corporate symbol of the games and copyrighted as such. In the end, most of the corporate vehicles slowed down as they passed it so the occupants could get a better photo!

They were soon followed by the main sponsor vehicles – a big blue Samsung bus, then a Coca Cola vehicle, with girls handing out small bottles of cold coke, and then the green, retro Lloyds bank bus.

Then there was a little pause, but eventually we could hear the growing excitement of the crowds around the corner and behind another security van (carrying all the press, we later discovered) Kathy hoved into view. It was fantastic. The crowds cheered and Kathy, pushed by her husband Gary, was waving and smiling. They slowed slightly to acknowledge Jules and Graham and there was a lot more cheering from the teenagers next to where they were standing. And then she was off down the street, to be cheered by hundreds of school kids, allowed out on the streets for half an hour to cheer the torch along.

Then suddenly it was over. Crowds took over the street for a minute or two and we wandered back up the road for a bit, hoping to see the next bit of the relay but it was already on its way. A reporter from BBC Oxford collared us and had a brief interview with Jules, took a few more shots of the banner. We caught up with a few people from the Hind’s Head and decided to walk to the pub we’d agreed in advance to meet up in.

We had quite a long wait here, chatting to various work colleagues and those from her local who’d come along from Oxford to cheer Kathy on, and then eventually she arrived. Still in her uniform and carrying “her” torch. (I hadn’t realised that she’d get one – apparently all the torchbearers who get their place through the corporate sponsors have their torch bought for them.) There was much posing with the torch and we sat down for a little lunch. All though lunch various people came over ask if they could pick the torch up, or pose for photos with Kathy, the celebrity ;-) .

Eventually it was time to go. We took a few more photos and headed for home. It had been a great day, and a fantastic way to sign off Kathy’s Olympic career. I was so happy for her!

Later in the day we received (from the BBC I think) a link to a YouTube video of the whole occasion, plus assorted interviews:

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