Diary of an Olympic torch bearer

Thu 7 Jun 2012

Two distinguished Northern representatives from baseball and softball – Liverpool Trojans stalwart Norman Wells and Manchester Softball League Chair Harry Somers – were nominated by Sport England as Olympic torch bearers when the torch passed through the North West. Below, Harry Somers describes his day in the rain, and Martin Williams from the MSL gives the view of the “man in the street”.


by Harry Somers
Chair, Manchester Softball League

The day started early, very early!  I had to be at the assembly point in Macclesfield by 7.30, along with the 15 or so other torch bearers doing the Macclesfield and Knutsford legs.  There was a lot of hanging around, some interviews and photos (mainly for the local people, not too much interest in me!), then at last a briefing, and onto the bus.

We were driven out to where the Macclesfield torch relay was due to start and then … we sat around waiting for a bit more, getting to know each other.  I must say that most of the other torch bearers had far more impressive credentials than me (not all, though: one appeared to have won it as Employee of the Month for one of the sponsors and another was a Brazilian sports journalist doing a feature).  There was one other oldish guy, like me a long-term sports administrator, but most of the rest were young people who had done fantastic charity work raising money, or people who had overcome disabilities to participate in sport.

Anyway, at last the time came for the bus to take us each to our allotted start points, and this is where my somewhat blasé cool began to evaporate.  Just seeing the numbers of people lining the streets, ten deep in some places, really made us all feel that this was something a bit special.  I was particularly impressed by the school groups, with their paper torches, flags and the general street-party atmosphere, despite the now really quite heavy rain.

So we were dropped off one by one to huge cheers and encouragement.  The guy two before me was dropped in the wrong place and had to walk back!  At last I got to my spot, and as Martin Williams describes below, as I got off the bus I was overwhelmed by the people wanting to touch the torch or have their photo taken with the torch bearer.   As many of you know, I am quite used to “performing” in public in one way or another, but this was by far the biggest gig I have ever done, and running (a sedate jog to be honest) 300m was somewhat outside of my comfort zone.

Pretty soon torch bearer number 051 hove into view, the grey-clad helper got my torch lit and sent me on my way.  I didn’t drop the torch, have to stop to walk, or do anything untoward that would get me on the Six O’Clock News.  I nearly ran past the girl I was supposed to hand over to, but after that it was back on the bus, another wait while the torches got decommissioned (so, no, sorry, it won’t light any more), and then back home to reality, which started with an interview with Radio Manchester, and ended with me sitting up until 2.00 am, adrenalin still a bit pumping, searching YouTube for videos of the event.

So, to answer the question everyone is asking, am I going to sell the torch?  The answer is a bit complex: it was Sport England who nominated me for this, and they have paid for the torch, on condition that I don’t sell it.  But now it has become apparent that there are people prepared to pay around £5000 (the widely-reported £115k bid was a hoax, but at the time of writing there are four or five torches for sale on Ebay with bids around £5k), it seems to me that this could be a splendid way to raise some cash for softball, perhaps to go towards fixing and developing the Showpitch.  Sport England are sympathetic, and we just need to find a way for me to pay them back the £200 (it’s public money so has to be accounted for, but they don’t really have any mechanism for receiving money!), and then see what happens.

Of course it may be that the market gets flooded, in which case I will think again.  But as I said to my sponsors, I feel it is a much more fitting legacy that the torch be used to raise money for our sport than that it sits on my mantelpiece gathering dust.  I got this honour thanks to the MSL, and I want the MSL to benefit from it.

Finally, massive thanks to those who braved the weather to come and lend their support!

The view from the man in the street

by Martin Williams

T'was raining when we got there.  In fact it was raining on the way there, on the way back and while we waited.  But that was just the right weather for the Great British public to celebrate – rain dripped off the Union Jack flags and the aroma of warm plastic macs and wet dogs pervaded.

But the drenching was worth it because scant minutes later, an orange “Warrington Shopper” bus (Number 132 from Holmes Chapel to Warrington if I am not mistaken) stopped and off stepped the hero of the hour, our own Harry Somers.

Resplendent in a white and gold tracksuit (see photo) obviously tailored to fit our athlete’s frame, it was clear that Harry had taken time with his appearance: the hair had been carefully combed to stick out all in one direction rather than in the random directions it is naturally accustomed to.  It was also clear that the months of arduous training for Harry had been worthwhile, and his taut body rippled under the 100% recycled polyester fabric like a Chorlton-based bronzed Adonis. Harry’s six-pack was in evidence, and being a helpful chap, he happily agreed to carry the six-packs of three or four other less fit runners under his own shirt (see photo).

In the six minutes he had to wait for the flame to be passed on, Harry chatted with the adoring throng.  He had his photo taken with well-wishers and school children, with policemen and stewards, with people standing in the street minding their own business and finally with people passing by walking their dogs who had no interest at all in the matter.

As the flame came in sight, Harry did a few stretches à la Usain Bolt, lit his own torch , then with cheers and rain-sodden hats being thrown in the air he loped elegantly 300 metres down the Knutsford Road.  The right hand held the torch aloft and the left acknowledged the crowd in a regal gesture, like Caesar triumphantly entering the gates of Rome.

I wiped a tear from my eye, hoping that Harry was enjoying the moment, and could keep the torch far enough away from the hair and nylon tracksuit to stop him from becoming the Olympic relay torch himself.

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