diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 19, 2011

London 2012  Olympic update
  Torch relay ahoy

In precisely one year's time, on Saturday 19th May 2012, the Olympic torch arrives in the UK. It hits land at Land's End, then spends the next ten weeks meandering around the entire country. It'll smoulder in Swansea, illuminate Ipswich, burn in Belfast, even light up the Isle of Lewis. The torch relay route passes all major centres of population as well as umpteen scenic wonders - it's simultaneously a community celebration and a British Tourist Board wet dream.
[London 2012 torch relay map] [BBC torch timeline/map]

And eventually it'll reach London, the Olympic host city. The following timetable has been announced, listing the boroughs in which the torch will appear each evening. Like so:That's very exciting, if you live in one of the above. Bit of northeast, bit of southeast, bit of southwest, bit of west, bit of north, bit of central. But there appears to be a giant omission from that list, and that's Tower Hamlets. Sorry to go on about my local borough again, but I thought we'd been promised a big role in the Torch Relay as payback for the scrapping of our marathon segment. Instead Westminster now has the end of the marathon and the penultimate night of flame-running. How can this be fair?

Well don't worry, because the locations announced yesterday merely form a list of where the torch will be spending the evening. There are still 70 daytime jaunts to be announced. A whole day from Plymouth to Exeter, a whole day from Cleethorpes to Lincoln - this torch is highly likely to be coming down your way. In particular there are plans to visit every London borough in the week before the Olympics, not just the six where it'll spend the night. The five "Olympic boroughs" will get to see the torch first, on London day one. And yes, Tower Hamlets will be first.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said: “It’s fantastic that Tower Hamlets’ residents will be the first in the capital to celebrate the arrival of the torch in London. It gives everybody in the borough the chance to get involved in the excitement surrounding London 2012. And it’s a great opportunity for us to highlight the unique character of Tower Hamlets – showcasing the borough to the world.
He does love his international showcasing, does Lutfur. Earlier in the week it was city status, now it's the arrival of the Olympic torch. He'll be down at Tower Bridge when the flame drops in, banging the drum for the borough and beaming broadly. But I fear this won't be the publicity dream for Tower Hamlets that Mayor Rahman is hoping for. After nine weeks of relentless round-Britain relaying, the public will be so torch-drunk that the first appearance of a flame on London soil will most likely have diminished impact. Who cares precisely which London borough receives the torch first when some Shetland sheep watched it jog past six weeks earlier?

And there would appear to be another problem. We're double-booked. Apparently "Tower Hamlets will welcome the Olympic Flame to the capital... on the evening of Friday 20 July 2012". And yet elsewhere on the Olympic site we read that "Guildford will hold an Olympic Torch evening celebration on Friday 20 July." Which is it? Will Surrey's evening celebrations prevail, or will they have to cut festivities short so that the torch can be rushed up the A3 to central London. I suspect Olympic organisers still have a lot more surprises up their sleeve - maybe flying the torch to Tower Bridge via Farnborough, or even sending it by speedboat up the Wey and along the Thames. Watch this space.

Whatever, let's hope that the torch's brief pass through Tower Hamlets is better organised than I remember from 2008. When Beijing's flame swept along Bow Road hidden inside a double decker bus chased by pom-pom girls on a Samsung lorry, that was undoubtedly the least inspirational Olympic event I've ever seen. From Land's End to Stratford, 2012's flame must burn brighter.

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