FROM HAND TO HAND, ACROSS THIS GREAT LAND
The heavy police presence counteracting threats of terrorism that are a part of the Sochi Olympic Torch Relay are lightyears away from the laid-back, joyful experience I had 24 years ago.
I’m not even sure there was any security – beside traffic and crowd control – for the 1988 relay. I spent two days covering the event in Southern Ontario for the Windsor Star and then joined the photo crew for Share the Flame, The Official Book of the 1988 Olympic Torch Relay on New Year’s Day, for a 12-day adventure that ended in Thunder Bay.
What a ride it was. Windsor, Chatham, London, Kitchener, Barrie, then north through Huntsville to Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie then west over Lake Superior to The Lakehead. I worked with magazine photographer Greg Stott of Toronto, alternating between coverage of the relay, often from the photo deck on the back of a camper truck and behind-the-scenes portraits of torch bearers.
I remember driving north out of The Sault in a blizzard and enduring the bitter cold in Thunder Bay. The days were short, the sun clung to the southern horizon. The light was beautiful, giving pictures that golden blue tonality. I had the time of my life.
I photographed many fascinating people in interesting locations: A torch bearer posed in the nickel smelter facility in Sudbury, a First Nations teenager wearing moose-hide mitts his mother had made, the grieving brother of a young torchbearer who drowned before he could carry the torch, and a Thunder Bay physician (at the Terry Fox memorial just east of the city) who had lost his wife to cancer.
But mostly I photographed scores of jubilant torch bearers wearing bright red uniforms. They were universally happy to carry the torch and take part in this historic event. The procession stopped several times a day for a brief ceremony. I found these hard to photograph through my tears. Oh Canada got me every time.
I hope that sanity will prevail and keep the torchbearers safe so that they can enjoy the experience as much as I and the 1988 torchbearers did.