Crowds flock to Durham to watch Olympic torch
The miserable weather failed to extinguish the Olympic flame on its triumphant journey through Durham’s streets to the racecourse, and the spirits of the community at large that had gathered to welcome it remained equally defiant.
At just before 7pm on Saturday, the BBC’s Matt Baker carried the torch into the University cricket ground to be met by students and locals alike, who had thronged in their hundreds to see the beacon lit on stage.
And Baker, who hails from County Durham and had aspirations to be an Olympic gymnast in his youth, declared the moment to be “one of the high points” in his life so far, in a career which has seen him attain broadcasting fame from Blue Peter through to The One Show.
Earlier in the day the crowds had been roused by a stunning performance from The Gala Theatre Company’s junior stage school, who sang an eclectic medley of songs from Les Miserables.
The story of the Olympics was displayed on a huge screen and acclaimed local band Little Comets provided further entertainment with their lively set evoking indie elements of Razorlight and The Futureheads.
Local gymnasts then demonstrated incredible strength and poise in a spectacular routine.
The commercial and corporate aspect of the games made a slightly less welcome appearance as games sponsors Samsung, Llloyds TSB and Coca-Cola product pushed in extremis.
But nevertheless the event served as testament to the pride and passion of the North East and this great city in particular; a celebration of the university which places such an emphasis on its sport and has enjoyed another tremendous season of sporting success in the Olympic Year.
University Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins was keen to express his delight at proceedings, and the way that the ceremony acted as a showcase for the University and the city at large:
“It’s wonderful forDurhamand for the University. It’s good publicity, and of course Durham University Women are number one in the country for sport, and the Men are number two, and we’ve got three of our students carrying the torch,” Higgins said.
The Vice Chancellor also sang the praises of the university facilities as venues for the torch festivities.
“Most of the celebrations are on University land. Here we are on the university cricket ground, which is probably the most beautiful cricket ground in the country with the cathedral and the castle in the background.”
“And then we’re going up to the University’s Palace Green tomorrow morning with Paul Collingwood. What more can you ask?”
As well as being an advert for the University and being immensely popular with students, the celebrations were well attended by local residents, many of whom brought their entire families along to witness the flame passing through.
Helen Huitson and her daughter Rebecca, who travelled from Belmont to spectate, championed the event as something which truly the brought the community together and united local residents and students.
“Durham has become far more cosmopolitan of late and there is much more harmony between locals and the students. This is emphasised today” Mrs Huitson said.
“This is the only time we’re going to be able to see [the torch being carried] so why not come down when it’s on our doorstep?”
Mrs Huitson also spoke of how the Olympics has “brought sport to the forefront” and will encourage them to become more active as a family.
“We’ll be watching all of the events. We don’t usually do sport as a family, we just tend to go on walks and things like that. But the Olympics being held here will definitely encourage us to get the tennis or badminton rackets out, if we ever get a summer!”
The torch’s journey paused at the racecourse overnight but continued its journey on Sunday, where it was helped along its way by three of Durham University’s finest athletes. Kira Roberts – a Commonwealth gold medal winner in fencing, Naomi Hoogesteger – who holds the world record for rowing the Atlantic, and Steph Elliot – England under-21 hockey captain, all held the torch aloft in its route around the city and out towards Sherburn as it continues its tour of the UK.
The anticipation was palpable over the weekend and there will be plenty ofPalatinaterepresentation in the games themselves: five of the ten women rowers on the GB shortlist are from the university, with many more involved in the various organising committees.
And to judge from the support and enthusiasm the torch’s arrival generated, we are in for an unforgettable summer of sport come July.