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July 31, 2012 > Local resident participates in Olympic Torch Relay

Local resident participates in Olympic Torch Relay

By Mahima Goel

The summer of 2012 has been one big celebration after another for Great Britain - Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrating 60 years on the throne, tennis star Andy Murray's rise to the Wimbledon final, and the highly anticipated London Summer Olympics. Amid all this excitement, Fremont resident Kumar B. Goel, had his moment to shine in the city of Andover on July 11 as one of 8,000 Olympic torchbearers.

Originally lit to honor the Greek god Zeus, the torch was brought to the Olympics as a symbol of divine power. The Greeks believed fire had been stolen from the gods by a trickster named Prometheus in order to make their civilization prosper. To respect these ancient origins of the flame, every torch relay is started in Olympia, Greece then travels around the world to its final destination in the country where the Olympic Games are being held. In 2012, however, for the first time in the history of the games, instead of traveling its usual course around the world, the torch traveled around the United Kingdom (U.K.), from city to city, to acknowledge the achievements of their country's people.

Being among those chosen in such a historic moment, Goel says, "It's an incredible honor and privilege to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Honored by the Olympics' supporting sponsor VISA Inc. as the representative from their Technology Department to carry the torch, Goel says he was lucky to make it through their internal selection process. Only three percent of the torchbearers chosen were from outside the U.K. population and only 12 people from VISA Inc. out of their millions of employees worldwide were named official torchbearers.

Although Goel was asked to make adjustments during the process, he says the result was absolutely worth it. "Originally, my run was in Winchester, which used to be the capital of Great Britain in 1519 and remains one of England's most historic cities," Goel says. "Later, it got changed to the city of Andover - around 20-25 miles from Winchester and there, we had a total of 21 torchbearers on day 54 of the relay." The torchbearers, as Goel explained, were called to meet at a collection point in Andover College where they were all placed in a briefing room approximately three hours before the run. They got to meet their Coca Cola, Samsung, and Lloyds TSB Banking sponsors and were told of how the sponsor convoys, along with the BBC media truck, would be in front of them and cheering them on as they received the flame from the previous runner and carried it on.

When the torchbearers' bus finally came, it seemed as if people had been sitting there for hours - teenage boys wearing the British flag, preschool girls carrying paper torches that they had made at school, and middle-aged mothers spreading out a picnic cloth for their family along the side of the road. Although pleasantly surprised by Andover's cheerleading squad and community veterans' band, the torchbearers' bus had its own charm.

"I remember amongst all the paparazzi and children coming to the torch, one little girl said to me 'If you show me your torch, I'll show you mine,' and took out her handcrafted paper torch. It was the sweetest thing," Goel recalls. "One of her friends even tried poking her finger into the holes of the torch," he laughed. "The streets were crowded with people trying to touch the torch or catch a glimpse of it - soldiers came out on tanks and women lined up in wheelchairs outside of the nursing home. The 350 yards and four minutes of my life just passed in a blur - I was the center of attraction everywhere I looked and it was so dizzying that I had to make sure my feet were on the floor so that I didn't float away."

Although it seemed to end just as soon as it started, Goel recalls it all. "Security came in around 10-15 seconds after helping me light the next runner's torch and took me back in the torchbearers' pickup bus. I could see that people had emptied the streets in just a few minutes as I headed back to Andover College to meet my family." Later, with the torch in his hands as a personal souvenir, he adds, "It feels as if the weight of history is upon me because I am carrying THE Olympic torch. Admittedly, it was a few hundred yards, but its memories will last a lifetime."

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