The Olympic Torch passed through Oxford earlier this week, inspiring two days of sporting celebration.
The torch arrived on July 9th after stopping for afternoon tea at Blenheim palace. It spent a night of celebrations in Oxford’s South Park, paying homage to the city’s rich sporting history. The bearers included community leaders, historic sportsmen and Olympic hopefulls, all of whom were accompanied by a large cheering crowd.
Amongst the 26 torchbearers there were Olympians new and old. Team GB archer Naomi Folkard carried the torch on Monday, ex-Olympic gymnast and charity worker Suzanne Dando the following morning. Roger Bannister carried the flame for a lap of the running track where he famously achieved a sub-four minute mile in 1954.
The torch was not just limited to sportsmen and women; it was also conveyed by community workers such as James Grote, director of the Ark-T community arts project. Multiple generations were nominated in recognition of their charitable work, including Harrison Anton, 16, Christine Carter, 85, and Oxford University Student Nichola Byrom, 25.
The torch itself has a special link with Oxford. An industrial design studio run by former Oxford Brookes student Jay Osgerby won the commission to design this symbol of the 2012 games, which has also gone on to win the prestigious Design of the Year Award. Furthermore, 30 current members and alumni of Oxford University will potentially be taking part in the games and many more from Oxford Brookes.
Steph Cook, Olympic Gold Medalist and Oxford Graduate, said that there was “an incredible atmosphere” as the torch passed through. Local school children had created bunting to decorate the streets and pubs and community centres held special events, creating a street party atmosphere. Some Oxford residents were not as impressed, with the relay being described by blogger Robin Lomax as “a quasi-military operation for people to capture on their smart phone”. Phones were certainly out in force, documenting the fleeting passage of the torch, while the attendees received various promotional gifts from the Games’ corporate sponsors.
The relay and celebration went by largely without incident and were accompanied by a friendly, celebratory atmosphere. However, in nearby Henley-on-Thames a streaker was arrested for disrupting the relay. Daniel Leer ran naked carrying a fake torch with the words ‘Free Tibet’ written on his back. He was quickly arrested and charged with indecent exposure.
Celebrations continued after the cauldron was lit in South Park, with a theatrical performance centred around The Tree of Light, a gigantic artistic installation created by designers Block9. The event, which welcomed the Olympic flame to Oxford, formed a part of the larger Oxfordshire Olympic celebrations funded by the Cultural Olympiad and Legacy Trust, a series of collaborations between performers and artists of different disciplines. These will continue later in the month and run parallel to the Olympic games, allowing communities and schools throughout the Thames Valley to be involved in the celebrations.
The creative team, which includes artistic director Charlie Morrissey and composer Orlando Gough, will bring together more than 1,200 performers ranging from professionals to community and school groups in a spectacular sensual extravaganza. The finale will be in Grand Stonor Park in Henley on 21st of July.