Flame will cross Cambie Bridge, past B.C. Place, before heading to Chinatown
by Gary Kingston
Personal principle might have kept him out of Beijing if he was still competing, but Walter Wu says respect for the Paralympic movement means he'd love to carry the 2008 Games torch during its four-kilometre relay route in Vancouver on Aug. 29.
Wu, the son of Chinese immigrants, is one of Canada's most decorated Paralympians, having won 14 medals, including eight gold, at three Games as a visually impaired swimmer.
"It would be great to be asked to do something like that," the Richmond native said of carrying the torch. "I had a couple of friends who did the Petro-Canada [Olympic torch relay] in 1988 and they told me it was a great thrill and experience. I'd love to be able to do this."
Some logistics and a preliminary routing for the relay are contained in a City of Vancouver memo obtained Wednesday.
The torch will arrive in Vancouver on the afternoon of Aug. 28. After a three-hour relay and celebration in Whistler the following morning, it will be flown to Vancouver.
Beginning at 1 p.m., 40 people will take turns carrying the torch from city hall, across the Cambie Street Bridge, around BC Place and down Pender Street before ending up at the Carrall Street Greenway in Chinatown.
With subsequent stops in London and Sochi, Russia - the 2012 and 2014 Olympic hosts - it will be the first international torch relay in advance of a Paralympic Games.
Many of the torch bearers are likely to be current or retired athletes with a disability.
Several groups - including the Vancouver chapter of the Students for a Free Tibet - have promised to take to the streets to protest China's record in Tibet and on human rights.
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan says he's cautiously optimistic that protesters, be they supporters of Tibet or local anti-poverty groups that have demonstrated at 2010 Olympic announcements in Vancouver, will stay away.
"I do understand that some of the groups that might want to be disruptive say they don't intend on doing so and hope they respect that [the Paralympics] are about inclusion and reaching out to all citizens. I don't think it's the kind of celebration that people will want to disrupt."
Wu, now 36 and retired since Athens in 2004, says his father's side of the family was "wiped out" in China many years ago, and that would cause him to seriously consider staying home if he was still an active athlete. However, he thinks the protests are misplaced.
"The people participating in [the relay] have nothing to do with what's going on over there," he said.
Wu said when it comes to choosing torch carriers, it's important to get a good mix between current and retired athletes with a disability, as well as winter and summer athletes.
"And it doesn't have to be all Paralympic athletes," he said. "There are a lot of people who have made a lot of contributions in different ways as coaches, as administrators, as volunteers."
Sullivan said that as a mayor with a disability it would be an honour to be a torch bearer, but he'll "defer that to others to decide." He said he expects the decision will be a "collaborative, consensus-based" effort by the city, community members and the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
To solicit community input on the proposed route, the torch-bearer selection process and the post-relay celebration, the city and the CPC are holding a public brainstorming session at the Vancouver Public Library on May 28 at 7 p.m.
- Published: Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, May 14, 2008