Total distance：3025.88 kms/1879.99 miles
Total fund：262,312.44 gbp
The meeting with Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee had been a huge encouragement to both Xuelin and I. We were grateful just for the opportunity but later in the day I received an unexpected SMS message saying that one of the slots for the torch relay, No 36 on 4 August, had become free and President Bach wanted to know if Xuelin would be willing to take it? It was an amazing opportunity and wonderful recognition of what this incredible lady has done to promote the Olympic truce and also the work of UNICEF over the past four months.
The Olympic torch is a powerful symbol of the Olympic spirit and the ideal of the truce. To be invited to be one of the 12,000 torch bearers carrying that message and flame from Olympia in Greece to its eventual destination, the caldron in the Olympic Stadium in Rio at the culmination of the Opening Ceremony of the XXXI Olympiad is an incredible honour. It is literally being invited to take part in a moment of history.
The modern torch relay owes much to the ancient traditions of the Greek Games. In Greece fire had a very special meaning–it was believed to have been stolen from the gods, by Prometheus, hence many temples including those in Olympia had eternal flames. Xuelin and I had the enormous privilege of being invited to the lighting of the flame for the London 2012 torch relay–it is a special and deeply moving occasion.
Ahead of each Games hundreds of messengers were sent out to the far corners of Greek civilisation to declare when the Games would be held and when the Truce would begin. They carried the message on bronze discs. The torch relay is therefore a continuation of importance of the scared flames of Olympia with announcing the truce which is meant to transcend them. The modern torch relay provides a link to those ancient ideals from almost 3000 years ago. It sends a tingle down the spine just to think about it.
Upbeat from our news on the torch relay we had travelled up to Belo Horizonte to visit my son Alex. Our visit also coincided with an official reception by the British Consulate for the Team GB athletes whose pre-games training centre was in the city. The event was held against the amazing backdrop of the Museu de Arte da Pampulha which was designed by legendary Brazilians architect Oscar Niemeyer. The Team GB for the Rio Olympic Games numbers 366 athletes–the largest number of athletes that have ever competed for Great Britain at an overseas Games and reflective of the strength of British sport.
There speeches and the best was from Bill Sweeney, Chief Executive of the British Olympic Association. Bill Sweeney is the very essence of a natural leader, his presence has an commanding authority about it. But what made his contribution extra special was when he spoke about the facilities he had encountered in Brazil, he said, “Without doubt these are the best pre-game straining facilities we have ever experienced.”
I wanted the world’s press to be standing right where I was. I have grown to have a deep affection and admiration for this amazing country of Brazil over the past two months of the walk. When I see the preparations for the Games run down in the media I get very upset not just because they are talking about a new friend of mine but also because I know this is categorically untrue. Bill Sweeney spoke for all of us who admire the quality and ambition of the Rio Games preparations and know that they will be a spectacular success.
I confess to being in awe of sports men and women. They are modern gladiators and they don’t kill each other which is even better! I cannot think of a greater honour than being an Olympian or a Paralympian. Give me my life again and I would strain every muscle to be part of Team GB even if it is in the small bore riffle shooting or curling teams. It is simply the greatest and most noble club in the world.
I would guess about 100 of the 366 Team GB were at the reception. I wanted to go and talk to them but couldn’t summon up the courage. These athletes are as Olympian gods to me and it was sufficient for me just to be grazing at the same buffet table at them. In fact I would have been happy just serving them drinks. Instead I kept a respectful distance and settled for chat about ‘small bore’ subjects with politicians, diplomats and business people.