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Daily Telegraph

UNTIL yesterday, every time an Olympic official spoke of the magic of the Games, I reached for the delete button. Then for 15 minutes in a Roman street, holding the Olympic torch that is making its way to Turin for next year’s Winter Games, I experienced the magic and was overwhelmed.

The Olympic torch had arrived in Italy on Wednesday, was blessed by the Pope and yesterday was making its way through the city. Samsung, one of the main Olympic sponsors, had arranged for a number of people to be part of the city’s torch relay. I was given a number, 121, an Olympic uniform of jacket, trousers, gloves and winter cap, and a torch.

The torch relay is not about passing the torch from one runner to another. Every runner has a torch filled with gas. What is literally passed is the flame from one torch to another.

I was in a group that included the chairmen of two national Olympic committees, and was dropped off on a street off the Via Appia next to a lamppost marked by my number. I was to await the runner who would be carrying the lit torch.

The crowd was already four to five deep and the moment they saw me holding this unlit torch, they surged forward. Some, realising I could not speak Italian, touched me as if making sure I was real. Then they touched the torch. One or two of them said: “It’s him, he’s the man with the torch.”

A father brought his young son up to me and photographed him reaching out to my torch. Then as the police outriders came by to switch on the gas in my torch, followed by the runner with the flame, a huge roar went up, making me feel as if I had won an Olympic gold. For the next 10 minutes, as I ran with the torch, some of them even ran alongside me.

So exhilarating was this that despite the fact that the torch was heavy — it weighed about three kilos — and the road was up an incline, I felt nothing. So much so, that when I reached position 122, and had to pass the flame on to the next runner, I was reluctant to do so.

I shall never fulfil my boyhood fantasy of scoring a Cup final winner for Tottenham but, as I passed the flame on, I briefly felt the exquisite pleasure that an Olympic winner must experience.

© Mihir Bose

      

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