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Former resident reflects back on 1988 torch run

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The Olympic flame soon will be embarking on its 106-day, 45,000-km cross-country trek ahead of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver in February.

The torch relay is scheduled to begin this Friday (Oct. 30) on Vancouver Island and culminate at BC Place on Feb. 12 with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, but will go everywhere in between and back with the help of 12,000 Canadians along the way.

On the 67th day of the relay, the torch will journey along Highway 17 near Dryden, sparking memories of a similar journey it took more than 20 years ago prior to the Winter Games in Calgary.

Five district residents—David Matiece, Natalee-Jo Wihnan, Henry Miller, Sarah Govier, and Alison Ogden—each ran a kilometre of the torch’s journey through Northwestern Ontario back on that bitterly cold January night in 1988.

“They took us out in a motor home, and we were given some basic training on how to hold the torch and that sort of thing, and we just followed along behind the runner until it was our turn to run our kilometre,” recalled Ogden, who is now living in Vancouver where she works as a school-based resource teacher at Eric Hamber Secondary School.

“I think, at the time, I ran on the cross-country team, so I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with running, but it was a very cold night as I recall,” she added.

“[The torch] was a lot heavier than I thought it would be, too.”

Ogden, who was in Grade 8, was set to take her turn with the torch at 5:35 p.m. on a lonely stretch of Highway 17 east of Dryden.

Ogden’s parents, Terry and Barb, along with then Times’ sports reporter Mike Behan and Fort Frances bylaw enforcement officer Dave Egan, sat at the supposed checkpoint in waiting vehicles to show their support and capture the moment, but 6 p.m. rolled around with no sign of the torch procession.

About 10 minutes later, the torch rounded the bend—but continued past them with an unidentified runner at the helm.

Terry Ogden began running after it, with Behan and Egan—who was adorned in the Little Amik costume, no less—following in hot pursuit.

After nearly a full kilometre sprint, Ogden finally popped out of the motorcade and took her turn with the torch as Behan captured the moment on film.

Egan had planned to get light from the official flame to bring back to Fort Frances, but in his haste had forgotten the lantern in the waiting vehicle.

Nevertheless, crisis was averted as the lantern was lit during an official ceremony in Dryden later that evening.

“They lit it in front of town hall [here in Fort Frances] and that burned through the Olympics,” Terry Ogden recalled. “They had a ceremony with the runners and made quite a display of it.”

A similar ceremony once again will take place in Dryden on Jan. 4.

People hopeful of carrying the Olympic torch this year were able to apply through sponsors Coca-Cola and RBC (Anne Renaud is reportedly representing Fort Frances for a leg of the relay this year), but Ogden recalled winning a random draw through a promotion at Petro Canada back then.

“My mother filled out a card for myself and for my brother [Jeff], and just dropped it in the box at Petro Canada,” she explained. “I know there were people who filled out hundreds of them.

“Usually I never win anything, but I did get that,” Ogden laughed.

The Ogdens maintain a photo collage of the achievement, and still have the official Olympic gear their daughter was outfitted in.

“They gave us track suits and toques, and we still have them,” Alison Ogden noted. “The suit is at my parents’ house, and somebody here made a joke that maybe I could still fit into it.”

Meanwhile, Ogden and her husband, Jayson Eppler, along with their 22-month-old son, Beckett, are in the thick of Olympic fever in Vancouver—and she said they are going to take full advantage of it.

“They’ve got road closures already and security teams running around the city,” Ogden noted. “I never went to the Calgary Olympics, but we do have tickets to some events this time around and it should be fun.

“It was a lottery for tickets, and we applied for a lot but the only ones my parents got were ski-jumping tickets and we got hockey [semi-final game], but I had a friend in the United States buy us figure skating tickets.

“They were hard to get.”

Ogden admitted, however, that not everyone is grasping the Olympic spirit.

“There’s controversy here,” she stressed. “There’s a number of people here who would like to see the money go elsewhere.”

Ogden attended the University of British Columbia after high school and remained on the west coast after graduating, but comes back to her hometown every summer to catch up with family and friends.

“We usually come home every summer because the summer weather is better for us than the winter weather,” Ogden joked. “We were down for two-and-a-half weeks in July and it rained every day while in the meantime we missed a heat wave here in Vancouver.

“But my parents have a cabin so it still beats being in the city any day,” she added.

Visit www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-torch-relay for more info on this year’s relay.

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