This was what it was all about on 9th June 2012 on the eastern perimeter of Argyll.
The Olympic torch was flaming through Luss and on to Tarbet, both villages on the shores of Loch Lomond, in Scotland’s first National Park.
Who knows how long it may be before we see the Olympic Games presented and contested again in these islands?
We have decided to put the occasion on the record with a series of stories around the event: the ‘first flush’ story we published yesterday, on the day; the Luss story; the Tarbet story; a Memoir for Myles Clark, the Argyll teenager who carried the flame to Tarbet, the only Argyll torchbearer to get the chance to run in his own place; and a focus on what the event was like for those at Arrochar Primary School just beyond Tarbet on the route of the flame.
The overall story is that Argyll took to the event with enthusiasm, curious and interested in equal measure and unequivocally out to enjoy whatever it proved to be.
Yes, the Olympic Torch Relay is solidly commercial.
The torch rides more than it runs. This takes some of the sense of the epic out of the occasion. It is also an event, fully made for television, for an audience infinitely larger than the present one, wherever it is and however big it may be.
Official television cameras are in a vehicle immediately in front of the runners, who run straight towards them. On television all you really see is the torchbearer of the moment, flame high, with the attendant runners. They seem – as they should, magnificent, transformed, potent. The torchbearer is in white, the star of the show. The attendants are in grey and become all but invisible. They may also be ‘official’ attendants – who has heard anything about them?
They could be martial arts experts, ready to fell at close quarters any madhead who seeks to interrupt the process of a streamlined event, or light a fag from the flame. Who knows. They are certainly barely visible. They catch no-one’s eye. The attract no attention.
In reality, you don’t really see the torchbearers and the accompanying runners until the last minute. They are screened by a cavalcade of cheerbuses from sponsors and followed quite closely by more vehicles in the convoy.
This arrangement will be born from a complex set of needs:
- security – who knows what or who is inside the close hauled convoy vehicles ready to act to stop some lunatic getting too early a line on the runners?
- television access – absolutely critical to generate excitement and belief – there are advertisers, sponsors and the IOC to reward for support;
- critical mass – the pressure of the cavalcade of custom-built promotional and cheerleading vehicles, with their bright quirky attraction, carries the sense of being part of something massive and irresistible.
This monolithic sandwich reduces the scale of the runners and makes then seem less significant but it does provide for a whole range of damage limitations.
Here is the conundrum. This is not just a a piece of historic heraldry, calling attention to a forthcoming event of worldwide competition on a wide scale. This is part of the payback to sponsors – and to the IOC for its confidence in awarding the games to the UK.
One can be snotty about commercialism but if sponsors didn’t put the money up we would have very much less to entertain and exhilarate. And the labourer, after all, is worthy of his hire.
To be honest, we had not thought Britain had what it takes in the organisational stakes to mastermind and deliver to this level. Sebastian Coe has been both inspiration and revelation.
There was nothing that had not been taken into account and nothing that had been left to chance in the planning. All contingencies were covered. The logistics were utterly awesome.
It would be interesting to know just how many vehicles there are in the torch relay exercise. We lost count of the number of BMW saloon cars buzzing around in the London 2012 logo and the slogan ‘Moment to shine’ on their rear flanks.
There were satellite transmission vehicles; more coaches than you could imagine there’d be passengers to use them; sponsored cheerbuses – open-toppers with crews of jollifiers calling to the crowds to warm them up in preparation for the arrival of the flame; ambulances, ‘incident’ vehicles, police outriders in greater numbers than for a presidential motorcade.
There was not one but three Coca Cola buses – and they earned their keep in the variety of visual pleasure they brought to the event – each different, all bright and intriguing.
The London Metropolitan Police are in charge of the flame from start to finish, nationwide. This makes good organisational sense and explains the immediate oddity of seeing several Met vehicles around.
And the epitome of advance planning – two brightly coloured vehicles we can only describe as the tugs of the road wheeled their way into Tarbet and unexpectedly parked up at the bottom of the hill out of the village with lights flashing. Why?
These are recovery vehicles that travel with the convoy and can pretty well cope with anything. If a civilian vehicle breaks down and threatens to hold up the progress of the flame – they’ll tow it out of the way. If a coach or truck in the convoy hits a stopper, they’ll move it out and take it away for repair. Beat that.
Overall, where some may have felt a bit rolled over by a certain juggernaut quality in the organisation, it is thoroughly considered, supersmooth and confidence inspiring, Not very British but a sign that we can actually do it.
For the Games themselves. If our athletes perform to this level of preparation and execution – and the cyclists already do, thanks to the exemplary Dave Brailsford – it will a summer to remember.
And now, for the record, the collection of photo-narratives on yesterday that we have, with others, put together, starting with the link to the immediate account published yesterday afternoon, on 9th June. The other four are all new.