It’s fair to say I’m a little bit excited about the Olympics coming to London this summer. As someone who has lately learned the benefits of sport, I will be willing our team GB athletes and paralympians on. And I’ll probably be watching a fair bit more TV than I usually do.
I don’t have tickets for any of the London events, although I’ll be watching the football at St James’ Park and I was lucky enough to enjoy my own Olympic experience, running through the Olympic park and finishing in the Olympic stadium.
And today the Olympic torch relay came to my neck of the woods. I’ve followed this on and off since it arrived at Lands’ End, dipping in and out of the TV coverage and watching the BBC live torchcam. It’s been brilliant finding out about the inspirational people chosen to carry the torch (and no, that doesn’t include US record producers promoting a talent show on TV). So many great people raising money, coaching sports and doing great things in their local community.
I took the day off work and as the relay was approaching the coast at lunchtime, I cycled up to Whitley Bay, the location for many of my runs. It was grey and overcast, but earlier downpours had eased and I began to see people walking out towards the route. I stopped at a random point near a bus stop and locked up my bike, securing myself a good spot to view the convoy from the pavement.
There was a great deal of excitement as I chatted to the people nearby and the crowds really began to gather, including scores of very excited primary school children with their union jags at the ready. Soon the police outriders came past, high fiving the crowds and waving. Then came the first stage of the convoy, the advertising buses dishing out sweets, drinks and things to wave and bang.
They were accompanied by a bus taking the torchbearers further down the route. This got a huge cheer, and as it slowed down to pass where I was standing, I saw Michael Moore, a colleague from work on board the bus, in his uniform, ready to carry the torch. I wasn’t exactly sure where his stretch would be, but I hoped I had a good chance of seeing it.
A little bit of a lull after the excitement of the first stage of the relay procession and then the blue lights and sirens of the main event appeared at the top of the road. First the media bus and then the torchbearer herself waving to the crowds nd getting a huge cheer from the children. She passes in a flash and just a few metres down the road, the flame is passed to the next torch bearer.
As the crowds move away, I retrieve my bike and begin to pick my way back down the coast towards Tynemouth. As I cycle along the paths parallel to the route, I spot a torchbearer I recognise as Jonny Miller. Jonny is brother to Stephen Miller, an amazing, inspirational paralympic athlete from Cramlington. I got to know Stephen when he made a film when I was working at the BBC and I’ve followed his athletic success ever since. He’s one of the athletes I’ll be yelling at the telly for at this year’s games.
I shouted out some encouragement and rang along beside the road with my bike for a while. I managed to get a bit ahead and spot the next changeover point, where to my delight, my friend Michael was waiting to ‘kiss’ torches and enjoy his moment carrying the Olympic flame.
That was a very proud moment for me. To see someone I know carrying the Olympic torch. Michael is a great guy and a keen runner, but he also gives up a lot of his time to coach kids’ football too. I knew it would mean a lot to him to enjoy this amazing privilege.
I was soon back on my bike again, my mission to get ahead of the convoy as it turned away from the coast and get to Tynemouth to see it again. I pedalled like fury, taking advantage of the off road cycle paths and then dipping back onto the road when they began to get crowded with people waiting to see the torch.
I’d got my bright yellow cycle jacket on and I think some people thought I was part of the convoy. I got a huge cheer and flag wave from a group of children that made me laugh as I passed. I shouted out to some others that they didn’t have long to wait.
I made it home, ditched my bike and helmet in the hallway and slipped my trainers on for a smooth transition into a run up to the end of my street, just in time to see the support buses pass by and know that the torch was on its way.
Another flurry of photos, a cheer and a wave to the torchbearer and torchcam bus and I was on the move again, into Tynemouth village.
I’ve never seen so many people out on the streets. I didn’t know that many people lived nearby. There were balloons and flags and music and people on stilts entertaining the crowds as the convoy passed down one side of Front Street and back up the other.
I caught my last glimpse of the flame again as it came past before heading away down the road towards North Shields.
And I’ve spent the rest of the day, watching the live coverage, heart in my mouth as Bear Grylls took it on a zipwire over the Tyne, tears in my eyes seeing William Hardy, future paralympic hopeful light the cauldron on the Quayside in Newcastle at the end of today’s journey.
The flame has much further to travel through this region and many more moments to come. But today I was proud and thrilled to be a Geordie (albeit not a home-grown one), to celebrate with the people that make this area so special and to add more memories to my store cupboard.
Who cares about the weather? It’s going to be a summer to remember.