Hundreds of flag waving, Hudson's Bay scarf sporting, wildly enthusiastic people pack into Whistler's Village Square just past dawn Thursday morning to see the much-anticipated 2010 Olympic Torch unveiled.
Its cool white and grey swerving frame is reminiscent of both the swoosh of a ski and the turn of a skate - its light and dark like the shadows in Canada's vast and varied landscape from snowdrifts to the Northern Lights.
As the two first torchbearers ran with the icon the crowd went wild, the air becoming a sea of red flags for Canada.
It was just the response organizers wanted as in many ways the choice to unveil the torch in Whistler was a practice for the over 1,000 stops it will make in communities across the country following the Oct. 30 start of the torch run. It will be back in Whistler Feb. 5, 2010.
"I think it is wonderful and I love it, it has great design, I think it is unique, and I think it is Canadian," said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.
"I didn't really understand how it important it was that... Whistler was the place that saw the torch first. So we really are being given a special recognition for our role."
On hand for the unveiling were John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, and Federal Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn.
"Most Canadians are going to want to have one so I think it is a pretty good design," said Campbell just after the unveiling.
"I think it is reflective of the country. The whole idea of the skier coming down the slope, I wish I could cut an edge like that."
Said Lunn: "It is going to be really exciting to see this torch wind its way across every part of Canada.
"The torch will touch over 90 per cent of the population so it is going to be exciting."
And while the torch was top of mind for Lunn Feb. 12, the one-year countdown to the Games, how Canada's athletes are doing is his top priority. That's why he announced a program to share a symbol of Canada with each and every athlete who reaches the Olympic and Paralympic podium in 2010.
"This is all about our athletes and their determination," he said.
"I really want to do something special for the athletes so for every single Canadian athlete... who stands on the podium they will be presented with a flag that has flown on Parliament Hill during the Games, just to show them the symbol of how proud we are of them."
Creating a flame that will stay lit across Canada was no easy feat, said Pierre Beaudoin, president of Bombardier Inc, which designed and will produce the torches and the cauldrons.
"Some people may think this is just a torch, but it is a highly technical product," he said.
"It has to operate from -50C to +40C and it has to be able to operate in high winds because you don't want any torch to lose its flame and you want it light, and you want an interesting design."
When lit, the brilliant orange glow of the Olympic flame will unfurl like a flag fluttering in the wind from the torch's unique 30-centimetre-long vertical flame outlet - unlike the more traditional cauldron-like shape encompassing a horizontal flame - and symbolically wrap around the country, bringing Canadians closer together. A red maple leaf air cutout will feed the flame with enough oxygen to ensure it burns brightly for all to see and a dual burner system will ensure it never falters.
Additionally, the winter white torch features an engraving of the Games' motto, With Glowing Hearts, into its design.
The torch (with fuel) weighs about 1.6 kilograms and contains stainless steel, aluminum and sheet-moulding compound. It will burn for at least 12 minutes using a blend of fuels such as propane and isobutane. Ninety-five per cent of the Olympic Torch is composed of materials and technology made or designed in Canada.
Twelve thousand torches will be manufactured - one for every torchbearer taking part in the relay.
"The Olympic flame and the Olympic torch are the symbols of the fire burning in all the hearts of all the athletes," said Rogge.
"They all dream of one day participating in the Olympic Games. The Olympic flame is a symbol of the purity that we all hope for."
The 2010 Olympic Torch and Torchbearer uniform were showcased last Thursday by the first two torchbearers selected through the public contests held by Coca-Cola and RBC, the national Olympic Torch Relay's presenting partners. Vancouver resident Patricia Moreno, 18, selected by Coca-Cola, plays a leadership role in her community and is dedicated to youth sports programs. Caleb Taylor, 35, was selected by RBC and teaches hockey to inner-city youth in his hometown of Regina.
"How cool is this?" said Taylor.
"I am honoured and somewhat humbled to be selected as (RBC's) first torch bearer for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games."
Said Moreno, "I just feel breathless."
The torchbearer uniforms, designed by Hudson's Bay, are white and accented with bright bursts of blue and green on the jacket's left arm. The palette is inspired by the winter landscape and the multi-hued beauty of the dancing northern lights, as well as the scenery of the Sea to Sky region linking Whistler and Vancouver.
To become a torchbearer go to either www.iCoke.ca or www.rbc.com/carrythetorch.
Last week's celebrations are the real beginning of the countdown for Whistler.
"I feel very, very excited," said Alex Nichol, long-time Whistler resident and mom to Olympic snowboarder Mercedes Nichol.
"To have the torch unveiled here shows that Whistler is so much part of the Olympics.
"There are a lot of people out there who say 'oh, everyone knows where Vancouver and Whistler are,' but no they don't. The world out there has yet to find us and I think this will bring it home."
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