POSTED: November 2nd 2009

London 2012's new test -- to avoid even more torch relay torment

Fani Halkia runs the Olympic torch into the Acropolis / lake images
Fani Halkia runs the Olympic torch into the Acropolis / lake images

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

LONDON: As London 2012’s high-flyers and helpers, constructors and communicators, went back to their desks after the firework-enflamed excitement of the 1,000-day countdown did they write a mental note of concern over another piece of Olympic pyrotechnics – the torch relay?

Hopefully Lord Seb Coe, with his eye for detail as well as the grand vision, did just that.

The piece of symbolic theatre which is the relay cannot, it appears, escape controversy. Remember how the international leg of the 2008 relay was assailed by human rights protesters in both London and Paris? Remember how the concept was brought into disrepute by the posse of blue-clad Chinese ‘bodyguards’ who surrounded it?

The torch appeared more a prisoner of states’ security than a flaming tribute to the freedom of the spirit.

Those proven risks of protest prompted London organisers, with the IOC’s blessing, to scrap the international leg. Instead, in 2012, the relay will be limited to Britain.

This was not, however, the end of controversy. Far from it. Greek Olympic officials are now covered in embarrassment after blithely allowing hurdler Fani Halkia to run a closing stage of the Winter Games torch relay into the Acropolis in Athens last week.

Halkia, who won gold in the 400m hurdles in 2004 in Athens was expelled from Beijing after testing positive for steroid abuse. Last December the International Association of Athletic Federations banned her for two years.

Steroid abuse

Greek officials, apparently, did not notice or remember. Halkia herself did not bother to remind them. Hardly surprising, perhaps, considering the cavalier attitude displayed by some of her fellow Greek athletes, notably sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou.

They were absent from their ‘home’ Athens Games after missing a dope test because they claimed to have had a motorcycle accident.

Olympic athletes going for a motorcycle ride on the eve of the Games? How bizarre – though no more bizarre, perhaps, than a banned (Greek) athlete being handed the sacred flame.

Hopefully London can avoid such pitfalls. Perhaps a Senior Executive Director, Torch Relay is already hard at work, poring over schemes to outwit the wiles of fate.

If a hoodoo does haunt the Olympic flame's progress, however, no-one need be surprised.

After all, the torch relay is no ancient ritual; it was staged initially only as a piece of theatrical glorification to fit the purpose of those most notorious Games of all . . . in 1936 in Berlin.

Keywords · Halkia · torch relay · London 2012 · IOC · Olympic Games · Coe · Athens · Berlin

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