From the Vault: Building interest in the Olympics
The Olympic torch has been lit in southern Greece, kicking off the countdown to Rio 2016. Grant and I were lucky enough to visit the site of Ancient Olympia. The Games were first held there in 776BC and remained there for 12 centuries.
This week, the flaming torch, which has a Twitter account, was handed to its first torchbearer, gold medal-winning Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias, before beginning its six-day relay across the country.
My version of being involved in the Olympic torch relay several years ago is not as glamourous of this event in Greece was where women in ancient-Greek-style dresses and men in tunics performed the symbolic rituals of cutting the olive branch and releasing a white dove into the blue spring sky, both symbolizing peace.
It all started out as an interesting thing to do.
Just two American’s going to see the Olympic torch run through the streets of Bangkok.
First, the warning in the local paper…titled-”You’ll be playing with fire”.
Bangkok police stated protesters disrupting the Olympic-torch relay will be arrested immediately and prosecuted for public disturbance. Foreigners will be expelled and banned from returning. Those with residency will have it revoked permanently.
Still Kevin and I wanted to see something we had never seen before.
Then, the notice that 2,000 law-enforcement officers will be on duty and that “Bangkok has prepared everything to ensure the smoothness of the ceremony. It even showed two police officers assigned to protect the Olympic torch study a handbook on running. I didn’t even know there was a “Handbook on running.” I wondered if I needed a copy but decided we would just be on the sidelines and not running with the torch.
The day arrived, and Kevin and I headed out to the course which had been layout in the Bangkok Post. We decided not to be at the beginning of the race since it was starting at the Chinese Gates and we knew this would be an area hard to get our car in and out. We opted to stop near the Democracy Monument. Our Driver, Somchai found a parking spot near a temple. This was ideal; we could buy cold local beer and even pay the 20 baht fee to get into the temple to use a bathroom if we needed.
Perhaps we should have paid more attention to what we were planning to do, what we were wearing and even perhaps who we should be going with to this event. I thought nothing of putting on my made in Italy eyeglasses and a green top. Of course, the matching green Capri pants would allow me some “coolness” as well as the ability to sit on a curb. Kevin grabbed his new green Roatan shirt with the cute turtle logo and put on his dark shades. At the last minute, I grabbed a light umbrella to keep the direct heat off of us.
Wearing green on Saturday in Thailand is often seen as unlucky. Why didn’t I remember that? I was always good at wearing yellow on Mondays.
We scanned the crowded street and found a wide open area where most of the people were already lined up on the shaded side of the race route. We were well prepared, so we opted for the less crowded sunny side. As I settled into the curb area, Kevin grabbed two cold “Leo” beers. A local cheap, almost impossible beer to drink but ideal when the temperature is approximately 100 degrees and the humidity is high. I noticed that we were the only non-Thai or non-Chinese people on the street.
Beer runs -Tropics – Temples – is this a good idea?
The race was slow in starting, so this required another beer run. All in all, that was not a bad idea. Leaving me on the curb with a small plastic bag full of empty cans might have been just too much. When Kevin returned, he wondered why this Thai man had decided to take up a spot on my right shoulder when the area around us was still almost empty. I wondered also and drank my beer.
Then, the people across the street started to get excited, one of them had a phone that informed him that the race had begun. Kevin and I moved to our left about two steps to get a good clear view of the soon to be torch sprinter. The Thai gentleman stepped with us. Strange. The racer was moving closer, flashing police cars were coming ahead of the parade. The sponsor’s floats were soon in front of us. I moved back this time to get a photo of the float. Strange, the man moved back with me two steps. No matter where I tried to get a clear and clean picture, I had this man’s arm or head in my camera shot.
So instead of trying to “Not get him”. I focused my camera more on the view of him, forgetting the floats in front of me. As I slowly click away on my digital camera, I finally focused on his cell phone and the small red words on it. I zoomed in and slowly the words came into focus . . . p.o.l.i.c.e. Yes, finally for the first time in my life (to my knowledge) I was pegged as a “concern”. I had my own police guard.
Kevin was still unsure why this man was keen always to be between my camera and the race causing me not to see the race. Kevin was starting to get annoyed. It must have looked to him like this nice Thai man was almost engaging in a silent dance with me, two step left, one step back, one step left, two steps right. But it was not the time to ask any questions; the racer was almost directly in front of us.
The crowd went wild. I got my camera up and ready to shoot. But a flag was in the way, a security runner was in the way, the Thai man on the street was in the way. But I saw the man dressed in white running clothes with the torch. He was just a few steps away, jogging, I would say not running. I tried one last time to get a photo to share with you all but once again; I got a nice shot of this Thai gentleman in the crowd. Yes, another photo of my own Undercover Thai Cop.
Highlighting the plight of refugees in 2016
This year one of the runners will be a Syrian refugee, who will carry the torch through the Eleonas refugee camp in central Athens — part of a conscious effort by the International Olympics Committee to highlight the plight of refugees around the world. For the first time in history, a team of five-12 refugee athletes from multiple countries will be competing in this year’s Games. They will march behind the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony in Rio.