On it’s way around the country, the London 2012 Olympic Games flame arrived in Leicestershire on July 2nd, Day 45 of the torch relay.
I was asked to cover the convoy as it passed through Market Harborough and Oadby before it’s overnight stop in Leicester. My brief was to shoot some of the crowds, get the Relay atmosphere and to photograph the torchbearer running through the town with the flame. It’s fair to say the weather that afternoon was grim. But even though the rain came down, the crowds turned up. In their hundreds. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people there to watch what was essentially, a bloke dressed in white running past with a shiny gold thing.
After filling my boots with happy faces, union flags and painted faces I looked for a spot to photograph the torch. What I really wanted was a view over the town square so I could see all the crowds and to be honest, somewhere dry. I spied an open window in an office which looked perfect. Pressing the buzzer at Lawson West solicitors I crossed my fingers and hoped they would let me in. And let me in, they did. The staff could not be more welcoming. Not only did I have a great view, I also had coffee and cakes !
Before the torch arrived there was some street entertainers geeing up the crowds and handing out goodies. The atmosphere was fantastic and by the time the flame arrived, I’ll admit, I was quite excited. There was just enough time for the local radio station to blast out ‘Chariots of Fire’ before torchbearer Dean Barnett ran through the Harborough streets. And that was it. The roads were opened, the crowds went home and I jumped in the car and headed for torch stop number two, Oadby.
The Highways agency were on the ball all day closing roads ahead of the convoy. Knowing this I took some back roads into Oadby, parked up the car and walked into the town centre. When I got to The Parade the crowds were already three deep in places. An amazing turn out again. While I waited for the torch to arrive I found more Olympic ring faces, a guy with a union flag painted on his nose, a dog with flags in his collar and children with cardboard torches they’d made at school.
Again, I had to find a position to view the torch relay runner. No suitable shop windows this time but a handily placed rubbish bin to stand on. Getting above people’s heads I could see the relay route and the flag waving crowds. I knew the torch was close when the travelling circus entered town. First to go through were the ambulances and medical trucks followed by a steady flow of police motorbikes. Even the police officers were getting in the mood, waving, playing with the street entertainers and sounding their sirons. A guy on a unicyle was riding up and down the road blasting his whistle and occasionally falling off on purpose - to huge cheers from the crowds. More vehicles buzzed through, the Coca-Cola truck, the Lloyds TSB bus and a massive Samsung trailer with a video screen on the side saying “Hello Oadby”, nice touch.
There was no time for a break before the sight of police outriders announced the arrival of the flame. This second wave of the convoy was lead by the media truck with photographers and video cameramen filming out of the back directly in front of the torchbearer. Here’s the torch………There goes the torch, followed by a coach, a bus carrying Olympic torches, a bus carrying torchbearers, some more support vehicles and police officers. A swift, well organised Olympic snake.
The roads were opened, the crowds went home and again I walked back to my car. This time to fire up my laptop, sort through hundreds of pictures and select the best photographs for the following day’s Leicester Mercury. As the torch was heading into Leicester and passing our offices there wasn’t much point me driving in to download my images so I sat in residential Oadby and sent them over a phone line from the car. This also gave some time for the traffic to clear for the journey home.
OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY - DAY 46
For me, day two of the Olympic Torch Leicestershire leg started very early in the morning. Needing to avoid road closures and wanting to get to the relay in good time, I arrived at the National Space Centre in Leicester at 6am. And I was far from the first there. Crowds of people had already filled the car park. The torch bearers were being briefed, a local Brownie troop were practicing their send off and I was putting my waterproofs on because it was raining. Again. I was taking no chances with the weather because I knew where I would be shooting from, and there was no hiding place from the elements. This morning I had a place on the media truck. I had one of the four seats reserved for photographers just below the tv cameras. I strapped myself into seat 2 next to Ben from the Press Association news agency and Ian, from the Leicester City Council media unit.
Ben, it transpired was and old hand at this torch relay business and he was able to give me some good advice. He’d been on the tour up and down the country so he knew a thing or two about torchbearer running styles, waving styles, torch change overs and crucially, how to balance for the bright lights of the police motorbikes.
The torch bearers on the leg from the Space Centre to the Great central Railway were all carried the torch in their own individual way. Some were slow, some could give Usain Bolt a run for his money, Kev Davies and Matthew Gopsill had the torch on their wheelchairs, but what they all had was the biggest smile and the look of immense pride on their faces.
The fifth runner of the day was a very familiar face. Fresh from presenting the BBC’s coverage of Euro 2012 in the Ukraine, former England and Leicester City football legend Gary Lineker joined the relay. He took the flame from Penelope Allman, made a quip about setting fire to his ears, and started his relay journey. There were so many people lining Abbey Park Road in Leicester and at 7.23 in the morning, that’s great support. There were people on push bikes cycling alongside and everyone had their phones and cameras out to record the moment. Gary looked like he was enjoying every minute but it seems 300 yards was far enough for a former striker.
The torch was relayed a few more times until it reached the Great Central Railway. My Olympic relay had finished but the torch was carrying on it’s journey through Leicestershire in style, on a steam train. To Quorn and beyond.
I may not have carried the flame but I loved watching and being involved in the torch relay. I will never see this again and I will cherish, in my own small way, recording a piece of Olympic history.