Thousands cheered wildly at Hillside Stadium Wednesday night as Kamloops-born, NHL hockey star Mark Recchi ran through their midst, an Olympic torch held high.
Recchi's run was the dramatic highlight of the evening's celebration, staged to officially mark the 2010 Winter Olympic torch's passage through Kamloops. More than 12,000 people filled the bleachers and field, toughing out what proved to be a bitingly cold evening.
Recchi started his run with the torch at the top of the bleachers, where he met Sen. Nancy Greene Raine, who carried the flame into the stadium. She passed the flame from her torch to his, sending him on the final leg.
Clad in a white track suit emblazoned with the Olympic rings, the Boston Bruins hockey player slowly weaved his way through the crowd.
As dignitaries, including B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, looked on, Recchi strode the last few steps up the stage. He turned, smiled broadly and lit a small cauldron as cheers erupted through the crowd.
He told the crowd he was thrilled to be in Kamloops, to be part of such an event in his hometown.
"This was an amazing thing," he said. "It was incredible, I will never forget this. I grew up here as a child. This is the best city. I can't thank the people enough in this town."
Greene Raine told the crowd the event is as memorable as her Winter Olympics skiing gold medal in 1968.
"I will never forget tonight, thank you," she said.
After the official celebration, Recchi told reporters backstage the honour of being asked to carry the torch into Kamloops has special meaning.
"It's something very personal," he said. "It was amazing."
Premier Campbell said the Kamloops crowd could be the most enthusiastic of all the communities the torch has visited. He said the spirit shown here is a harbinger of what will come to Vancouver in just a few weeks.
'We'll win gold medal after gold medal," he yelled enthusiastically. "Go Canada go!"
Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar said this event proved the city deserved the Tournament Capital label it claimed many years ago.
"This could be the biggest crowd (at a torch event) so far - not just per capita," he said.
He accepted a commemorative plaque from MP Cathy McLeod and a ceremonial torch from VANOC executive Dan Doyle. Both will find a place at City Hall, he promised.
The torch visited 1,035 communities and travelled more than 45,000 kilometres since it arrived in Victoria more than 90 days ago.
The evening's excitement started to build at least an hour before the torch arrived at the stadium at 7 p.m. Live music, gymnasts and artists entertained everyone as the torch made its way from the downtown core to the stadium.
Clad in red and wearing a Canada flag as a cape, Spencer Hodgkiss waved a large flag high in the air.
"I'm just proud to be a Canadian," he said. "I just love the Olympics. It's a great atmosphere."
Tim Ruttu said this event will be as close to the Olympics as he will likely get, as he was not able to get tickets to any of the events.
He had his picture taken with the torch at a special booth set up for that purpose.
"The Olympics is just a tremendous symbol of unity. I've never had the chance to touch an Olympic torch before," he said.
"It's pretty awesome."
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