Scott Russell - Tuesday Oct. 8, 2013 09:30

An Olympic torch moment to remember

CBC Sports host moved to tears

Scott Russell receives the Olympic Torch

It turns out I came an awfully long way to run about 500 metres.

But the trip from Toronto to Moscow was more than worth it. The chance to get close to the embodiment of the Olympic spirit, while fleeting, was more than enlightening. It was wonderfully exciting to be that near to the flame.

I have had this lifelong romance with the Olympic Games. It blossomed when I went to summer camp and competed in a mini-Olympics. I watched in awe as the lone runner clad in a loincloth carried the kerosene torch to the baseball diamond and illuminated our modest cauldron.

It was a magical, spiritual moment for me that has been played out, albeit in more grandiose terms, at each of the eleven Olympics I have attended. To wear the Olympic rings on my back and to carry the torch in Moscow was something I never envisioned for myself. 

But it was a dream come true nonetheless.

Russia is still a mystery to many. And yet, I discovered in my short time here that the people have a reverence for the Olympics. The Luzhniki Stadium, where I ran my portion of the relay that will cover some 65,000 kilometres, is huge and a constant reminder that the Soviet Union hosted the boycotted Moscow Games in 1980. Sochi marks the chance for this powerful winter nation to draw together and welcome the world as an emergent Russia.

As we all know, there are issues here.

But as a torchbearer, it struck me that the Olympics are trying to get beyond the things which divide us. The Olympic spirit has more to do with what brings us together.

It turned out that, in my group of torchbearers, there was a diverse group of people. My broadcasting counterpart from CCTV in China, Jiang He Ping, set the tone when I met him on the shuttle bus as we were all being dropped off at the starting point for our runs.

"My name translates to the word peace," he said. "I'm here to bring peace to this country and Russia is a good place to have peace at this time."

Kamilla Gazieva sat in front of me and waved to her family and many friends through the window. She had just come home from Boise State University in Idaho, where she's a graduate student in health sciences.  She's also a marathon runner and was chosen to carry the torch as a representative of the Moscow River Runners, her local athletics club.

Kamilla had just arrived in the United States in September, only to find out about her chance to carry the flame, so had to ask permission to miss a week of class at a critical time.

"This was a must for me, to run the Olympic flame in my Russian home," she said. "As soon as my professors found out why I wanted to miss class, they were so happy for me and urged me to come back home."

The man who ignited my torch was a friendly guy named Nikolay Pryanishnikov, the CEO of Microsoft Russia, the company that will handle much of the information technology for the Sochi Games. In the staging area, we discussed my trip to the ancient Luzhniki Ice Palace, where Team Canada narrowly defeated the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series.

"I was only just born then and so I don't much remember it," he said with a knowing smile. 

"But we had the Summer Olympics here, too, and finally we get a Winter Games. Our sports infrastructure in Russia really needs this."

When he handed off to me, Nikolay grasped my hand and wished me the best of luck.  I understood that he was being extremely genuine.

As I ran with the torch, things got very quiet. I didn't much notice the crowd at the side of the road or the TV truck that preceded me. The only sound I heard was of my own breathing and perhaps the faint flickers that a fire can make. To tell you the truth, I just concentrated on the flame and how it felt to hold it aloft.

It was quite simply, humbling.

Sure, it's only a symbol and my moment with the torch was nothing more than a whisper.

But the fact is, I believe in what the flame represents. I have ever since I was a kid. And now that I've been that close, I can't wait for the Olympics to begin and to steal my heart all over again.
Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay

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