Saturday, December 19, 2009

Art and the Olympic Flame Convoy

Before the Olympics, before the many competitions and before the athletes come together to battle for the gold, the Olympic Flame journeys from it's ancestral home in Greece to the 2010 Winter Olympics to be held in Vancouver, Canada starting on February 12, 2010. The long run is about half over with 55 days remaining until the opening ceremonies see the transfer of the relay's flame from the over 12,000 individual torches to the Olympic Cauldron in Vancouver, British Columbia. General Motors of Canada Olympic Flame Relay convoy co-manager Art Lewis, pictured above, smiles during my tour with the convoy.

The Olympic Flame Relay goes through over 1,000 communities and rather than start on the east coast of Canada and end in Vancouver this circular route started out West, headed up into the Artic, then over to the East and is now on it's westerly way to Vancouver.

National Corporate Sponsor General Motors of Canada provides the vehicles and technical know-how to keep the relay moving towards it's Vancouver destination. This massive undertaking needs about 110 vehicles and a team of eight, including fleet managers Art Lewis and Serge St. Louis. Art in his office on the road in the picture below.

Art and Serge alternate the fleet management duties on a two week on, two week off schedule of days which begin at 5am and run to midnight. Art was our gracious host during a weekend relay while partner Serge was home, on call and ready to return to work when Art has completed his current two week tour of duty.

We talk to Art about his experience in the convoy. The Nestleton (15 minutes east of Port Perry, Ontario) resident was handpicked by GM for this role, along with Serge, for their abilities to provide a seamless organization that keeps the massive army of vehicles on the road, supporting the flame on the way to it's final destination in Vancouver. While the days are long Art is energized by the large crowds out to catch a glimpse of the runners and the Olympic flame. He especially likes the weekday travel when many schools along the route let the children out of school to view the relay. Art also confirmed my experiences with the Olympic Flame crowds as they treated the relay runners similar to celebrities - taking photos of and with the runners.

Approximately 15 vehicles are in the actual flame relay include a couple of small buses which are tasked to pick up and drop off groups of runners at their designated spots, the sponsors large party trucks from Coca-Cola and RBC, a control van, a large media truck providing live coverage of the relay and many independent emergency police (local and RCMP) and ambulance vehicles. The balance of the fleet carries supplies and travels on different roads.

Servicing of the General Motors fleet occurs early in the morning or late into the night at local GM dealerships. The fuel efficient vehicles such as the Acadia and Traverse models are supplemented by a number of hybrid vehicles and diesel buses. Weather and vehicle performance have both been good. Art tells of a side mirror being taken off one of the big buses holding the sponsors performers by an animal contact, something which happens all to often in our province.

Here are a variety of interesting Olympic Flame Relay facts that I learned from Art.

-After British Columbia the vehicles were shipped by train to Montreal, then by motor carriers to St. John's for the return journey to Vancouver with the relay runners.
-The vehicles will be sold after the relay is finished.
-The relay was accompanied by elephants and cougar cubs in Bowmanville.
-After a runner has finished their 300m section they climb in the return bus, the gas is removed from the torch and it is then offered for sale to the runner.
-Lunch and dinner celebrations are parties organized ahead of time and feature entertainment, attractions and the lighting of a cauldron to keep the flame going. Power for the celebrations is provided by solar power. Special teams set up the stages and attractions in a couple of hours, later packing them away and heading to the next celebration site.
-When two runners come together and hug it is called a marriage (see picture at bottom of this post).
-Large orange stickers are placed on streetlights or other street furniture which shows where the next runner is to be placed to begin their relay. Each successive torch is lit from the previous torch, all originating from the flame which came from Greece.

While at an intersection I had the window down taking pictures when a fan asked if we were the people from GM? I told her that Art from GM was driving and she said that she was following them on the internet. Update: I found out that this is Christina and you can see her blog post of the events at Journey to Vancouver 2010-diary of a fan.

I do know that Art misses his wife and three dogs while on the road and he is also a new grandfather. Luckily the relay take a break on Christmas and Boxing Day so he looks forward the holidays at home. The vehicles also keep him too busy to see a lot of the celebrations that many Canadians are getting to see when the relay goes through their communities.

Here is a special morning celebration at the site of a major sponsor - Bell. A tractor trailer was set up with a artificial ski jump and a couple of trampolines. Olympic athletes performed several jumps and acrobatic moves. See my YouTube video.

A lantern with the Olympic flame is used to light the relay runner's torch.

With the torch lit the first runner is ready to begin the relay.

Thanks to Art Lewis and General Motors of Canada along with Michael Allison of the Wilcox Group for inviting me on this fantastic adventure.

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1 comment:

Notashopaholic said...

Hi James
It's Christina Wallaert, the fan in your photo. Your brother sent me the link to this. Now that I know your name, I will update the photo of you and Art on my blog to include your name. What a great insight into the Torch Relay. Lucky you for getting to do a Ride Along with Art and GM.
Thanks for not referring to me as crazy, lol.
Take care.

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