The Olympic Torch Relay
Emily Harnden is the sort of inspirational figure that the Olympic Torch Relay was built around.
Harnden, 52, is a teacher and coach in Portland, Ore., who spends a large amount of time volunteering, especially for the American Cancer Society in a residential camp for children with cancer.
That work, along with other volunteering - 'I do a lot of things people don't know about,' she says - helped to win her a place on both the 1996 Relay that ran the Torch to Atlanta, and on the 2002 Relay that is running the Torch to Salt Lake City. Not just any old Torch runner, mind you: Harnden was called a community hero.
On May 6, 1996, Harnden lit the Olympic cauldron in Pioneer Square, in the heart of downtown Portland, and ran the Torch from there. Thousands cheered her passage.
'I am getting the chills just now thinking about it,' she said during a telephone interview last week. 'It was really exciting, and it was a real honor.'
Harnden, who on Monday picked up her runner's uniform, is one of thousands of inspirational figures who will carry the Torch from Athens, Greece, where it was lit ceremoniously in November, across America. Last week, the Torch was making its way across the upper Midwest.
The Relay, by the time it is up, will be a 65-day affair that visits more than 120 major cities in nearly every state in the Union. A web of volunteers working behind the scenes keeps the marathon going, and their frenzied, round-the-clock work belies the seemingly slow nature of the run itself. About 11,500 runners will carry the Torch 2,240 miles, though the flame will actually travel thousands more miles by car, plane and even Coast Guard boat.
Along the way, communities from New York City to tiny Stockton, Utah are putting on their best faces. In Utah, most communities are planning parties to mark the Torch's passage. The Torch will take an extra circuitous route in Utah, arriving from Colorado to the east, winding through southern to central Utah, into the western and then northern parts of the state, across the Wasatch to Park City, and finally into Salt Lake City, where it is to arrive Feb. 8, the day before the Games begin.
Harnden, who was nominated this time by her husband Ed, grew up one of seven children, and had five brothers. She played basketball and baseball with her brothers until they grew too big for her. But there were few opportunities for women in sports then.
'I always dreamed of being in the Olympics,' she says. 'I was your basic tomboy.'
Instead of competing, Harnden followed her own Olympic stars, like a skier from Oregon who won a bronze medal in the 1968 Innsbruck Winter Games.
'I always dreamed I would be able to be in the Olympics,' she says, 'and I was so glad I was able to.'
This year Harnden will run the Torch on Jan. 22, through southwest Portland along a lake leading back to Pioneer Square. And like in 1996, this time she plans to purchase a replica of the Torch, one that she can share with her family and with school children, senior centers, and nursing homes, which she plans to visit to talk about the Olympic experience.
'The most important think about the deal ... is I get to share it with so many people,' she said. 'That is what is really exciting, to be a part of the Olympics and carry the Olympic flame.
'I had two feelings when I heard that they had selected me again,' she continued. 'I thought that I should share it, and then I thought, Oh dangit, I have that little bit of selfishness that makes me want to carry it again. I am excited. It's an honor.'
And like last time, Harnden says she will purchase the Torch she carried - an option available to all Torch runners who have $335 to spare.
'My daughter will be here this time, and I'm so glad,' she said. 'Last time she was not here and I always felt like I had failed because of that. But this time I will have Brooke and I'm real tickled she can watch. It's a very special deal. And now I will have two Torches, and then I can give one to each kid. I will have one to give each of my children and they will have that to remember me by.'
Olympics Arts Festival
There will be a sort of second Olympics going on this winter in Salt Lake City: the Olympic Arts Festival.
The festival will synthesize the competitions with poetry, music, sculpture, and even religious celebrations.
Sculptures by Allan Houser, paintings by an array of Utahns, one of 25 surviving original copies of the Declaration of Independence, children's art, and Olympic and athletic memorabilia will be on display through February and March, with admission to most of the venues being free. One event that is not free may be worth the steep ticket prices: the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which will perform in Salt Lake City the first and second weeks in February. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will also perform, and there will be ice carving and an Olympic rodeo and James Beard Foundation Dinners with 'celebrity' chefs.
The events are detailed in a beautiful large-format booklet available free at a variety of stores around the Wasatch Front, or you can check it all out at www.slc2002.com.
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