K-W joins Olympic celebration

Residents of Kitchener-Waterloo took to the streets on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 27 to watch as the Olympic torch made its way down King Street, starting at the Union Street intersection and ending at Kitchener City Hall at 7 p.m.

Onlookers gathered to cheer on the torchbearers and celebrate as their city became a part of Olympic history as one of 1,035 Canadian communities chosen to host a leg of the relay.

Kitchener was one of the few honoured with hosting the flame overnight.

“To be selected to keep the cauldron overnight, I think that’s great. There were only so many centres across Ontario, across Canada, and we are one of them,” said the final torchbearer of the evening and prominent community member Pat Doherty.

Also present among the onlookers were event organizers, torchbearers and all others gathered at City Hall were a collection of local athletes from past and present Olympic Games, as well as a few hopefuls for the future.

“We have all been brought here because of the power of the flame,” said Ann Bilodeau, chair of the Kitchener celebration task force.

Jim Richards, director of the Vancouver 2010 Torch Relay, stated that it was the planning committee’s vision to use the relay to link the passion of the Games, the athletes and the communities together. While the Games are traditionally about the athletes, this experience allowed for the people in each community to also become a part of the Olympics.

Kitchener-Waterloo is now among the links that Richards hoped would bring Canada together throughout this journey as the flame makes its way from community to community across the country.

“Being selected as a celebration community will leave an enduring and profound legacy that will continue long after the flame is extinguished,” said Bilodeau.

The Olympic flame is intended as a symbol of friendship, peace and unity, which was clearly evident by the crowd that came together on Sunday. Waterloo Town Square was the location of one handoff along the route, and as the current torchbearer made her way into the square and the next made her way out, onlookers lined the streets, filled the square and even stood on rooftops to secure their place as a part of the relay.

“It was neat to see how many people came out; I thought it was a good crowd and a lot of excitement,” said community member Don Marshall who came out to see the torch.

Further along the road, crowds gathered outside of City Hall not only to watch the torch carried in by Doherty but also to celebrate and share in the pride that comes with being involved in this event.

“The spirit that has been here tonight … I think surpasses anything that we have done here at City Square at City Hall. This is an amazing sight, an amazing feeling and what it does is bring our community together, and it symbolizes how the country comes together for the Olympics and our Olympians,” said Kitchener mayor Carl Zehr.

Protesters set up outside of City Hall to await the arrival of the flame, holding banners and calling out their concerns with environmental and ethical issues surrounding the Vancouver Olympic Games. Despite their efforts, the cheering crowds drowned out the protest as Doherty made his way up to the stage.

The symbol of the Olympic flame, representing pride and honor for Kitchener-Waterloo as well as the community members who came out to celebrate, also held a special meaning for those chosen to carry it.

“It’s just an awesome feeling and I really feel like I’m a real part of my community. I’m carrying the actual flame from Greece and it’s just a wonderful experience to be involved in that,” said torchbearer Tiziana Giovinazzo. “I’m so proud and so honoured.”

Doherty also expressed his gratitude at being awarded the honour of final torchbearer, as well as his pride in the community members who came out to show their support.

“A tremendous crowd … coming down King Street from Ontario we could hardly get through,” said Doherty. “To reach the stage and get up there and see the mass of the crowd out in front of me … the people that came out to support the flame and the Olympics, it’s just great.”

Doherty will continue to share his experience with others as he travels to different schools to speak about the Olympics and what it meant to be a part of the relay.