Torch Relay: The strongest personal story

Apparently we’ve all been complaining even more than usual. About the Olympics. About the organisers. (Also, about the weather.) But, the Games are nearly upon us, even if LOCOG’s opposition to letting ordinary people share the excitement is such that they’re even talking about it in Calgary. (Jeremy Klaszus: “Games could use Stampede branding lesson”) and the restrictions on what you can and cannot say without paying LOCOG for permission has become almost a parody of itself: Stewart Lee: How I was busted by the O—— Advertisement Enforcement Office; Avedon Carol: WTF? Oh, if only I was any good at creating graphics, this is such an invitation to parody. With little swastikas…..

But never mind that! From the Ealing Gazette:

There’s growing excitement as the Olympic Torch Relay draws to a close – it means the games are almost ready to begin.

As the Flame heads to Ealing on July 24, we take a look at some fascinating facts about it and the history and tradition behind the Torch, as well as finding out who the local Torchbearers will be.

Curiously enough, the Ealing Gazette does not mention which Olympic Games first instituted the idea of a torch relay. Nor does the history page at the official London 2012 torch relay website. It was the 1936 Summer Olympics:

The entire torch relay, starting with the ceremony in Olympia, was a thoroughly German production. Krupp, a German arms manufacturer, crafted the steel-clad torches that featured a magnesium-burning element designed by German chemists to stay lit regardless of weather conditions. Germany’s Zeiss Optics built the mirror used to light the flame, and an Opel car carrying a spare Olympic flame trailed the torchbearers. Goebbels ensured there was extensive German media coverage of the relay, including radio reports directly from the route, and he commissioned director Leni Riefenstahl to film it as part of “Olympia,” the Nazi propaganda film released in 1938. Surrounded by the mythology of ancient Greece, Riefenstahl wasn’t above doing some mythmaking of her own. Dissatisfied with the footage of the actual lighting ceremony in Olympia and believing that Kondylis did not resemble the ideal of an Olympic torchbearer from antiquity—had such a thing existed—the director brought another relay runner to Berlin after the Summer Games to stage the version of the torch lighting that appears in the movie.

From Greece, the Olympic flame traveled more than 2,000 miles through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia. It was blessed by Greek Orthodox priests in Bulgaria and serenaded by Gypsy musicians in Hungary. When the relay reached Vienna on the evening of July 29, 1936, Austrian Nazis, who had assassinated the country’s chancellor in a failed coup attempt in 1934, sang the Nazi Party anthem and welcomed the flame with cries of “Heil, Hitler!” They hurled epithets at Jewish members of the Austrian Olympic team and shouted down the Austrian president. A statement from Goebbels ironically read that “the use of the Olympic flame for political purposes is exceptionally regrettable.”

The Olympic flame was welcomed by 50,000 Germans at the Czech border on the morning of July 31, 1936, and the following day German runner Fritz Schilgen held the torch aloft as he entered Berlin’s Olympic Stadium before a sea of 100,000 onlookers. Schilgen, an elite runner but an Olympian, was chosen as the final torchbearer for his youthful Aryan appearance and graceful gait. As he ran the ultimate leg of the relay past Hitler’s box before lighting the cauldron, he completed the last link in a chain binding the Third Reich to Mount Olympus.

But that was 76 years ago! In 2012, the Olympic Torch relay is about how:

8,000 inspirational people will carry the Olympic Flame as it journeys across the UK. Nominated by someone they know, it will be their moment to shine, inspiring millions of people watching in their community, in the UK and worldwide.

Today, in Ealing, we see that LOCOG weighed in the balance the inspirational stories of Doctor Chai Patel and Jack Binstead, and which one was determined to be more likely to “Inspire a generation”.

Doctor Chai Patel

Chai Patel moved to the UK (1970) at the age of 15 with his parents, who opened a shop. He qualified as a doctor, and then moved from the NHS to the City of London, founding his own company, Cavendish Homes, in 1988: he now lives in Oxshott (described as the most expensive village in England) and heads a care home super-group created from remains of Southern Cross.

Dr Patel started his career as a provider of care in the NHS, before becoming an investor in the 1980s with the original Court Cavendish. He then rose to prominence at the turn of the century when, alongside Goldman Sachs, he acquired Westminster Health Care and Priory Group. However, controversy soon followed. Mr Patel was accused of being part of the “cash for honours” scandal after questions were asked about a loan he had made to the Labour Party. Mr Patel denied any wrongdoing but withdrew his name from the list of nominees for a peerage.

He was also investigated by the General Medial Council over allegations he failed “to safeguard the health, safety and welfare” of residents at an old people’s home owned by Westminster Health Care. However, the GMC dropped its case after the High Court threw out the allegations.

Doctor Patel lives in Oxshott: he is Chair of HC-One (the company now running most of the previous Southern Cross nursing homes), was Chairman of Court Cavendish and Founder Partner of Elysian Capital. He is Deputy Chairman of the Care Management Group and Chairman of English Landscapes. His family foundation, the Bright Future Trust, is “an active supporter of a wide range of organisations enabling young people to fulfill their potential and overcome challenges”. In 2011, he was awarded ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the Asian Business Awards.

Conversely, what has Jack Binstead done? He’s only 15. Known to his friends as Wheelz.

Jack Binstead Wheelz

Having broken 64 bones since he was four weeks old, Jack is an ambassador for the Brittle Bone Society. He is also ranked eighth fastest in wheelchair speeds in the UK, and has even broken records while nursing broken bones. His bravery was recognised in 2007 with a Children of Courage award. Now he is aiming for the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, but to achieve this ambition, he will need to find sponsors where family and local charities have helped to date.

“It is always helpful to have some funding,” Jack says. “Mine is a very expensive sport, so the torch relay would have got me recognition and a possible chance of sponsorship.”

Jack Binstead came first in the 11-13 group at the Mini London Marathon in 2010:

His mum Penny said: “He was really chuffed. He really, really wanted to win, having come second last year. He trained really hard, right through the winter, but has had a few minor injuries.”

His fractured rib put him out of training for more than a week, leaving him about seven days to get into training again before the race.

Mrs Binstead said the rest may have helped him by giving him the break he needed to finish the three miles in 16 minutes 55 seconds – two minutes faster than the previous year. “He was all grins at the end. It really meant a lot to him. He was soaked through because it was pouring it down, but he was on such a high.”

LOCOG say: “People were chosen on merit through the public nomination campaigns rather than their age. It is right that we selected people with the strongest personal stories.”

8,000 Holes: How the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay Lost its Way:

The book details how at almost every stage of the allocation process torchbearer places were taken away from public availability. The story of how and why one inspirational wheelchair racer, and tens of thousands of others with inspirational stories, missed out on the opportunity to carry the Olympic torch.



Filed under Disability, Olympics

2 responses to “Torch Relay: The strongest personal story

  1. “Excitement grows as Olympic torch comes to Ealing” – that has to be the least interesting headline since “man nearly bitten by dog!!

    For me, the Olympic Torch Relay is the last vestige of Nazi ceremonial that is still allowed in a civilised country. Dating back to 1936, and the Berlin games, it was created to glorify Hitler, the Third Reich and the Aryan race. And we allow it to persist – very much to our shame!

  2. Just heard on Twitter – the Krankies are to be the chosen ones!

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