Olympic torch whizzes through the northern Yukon

Old Crow 'Do you need a ride?" said the masked man on the snowmobile. He was pulling a yellow sled, an Old Crow taxi. "No," I said.

Old Crow

‘Do you need a ride?” said the masked man on the snowmobile.

He was pulling a yellow sled, an Old Crow taxi.

“No,” I said. I was waiting for the rest of the reporters and politicians still celebrating the Olympic torch relay inside Chief Zzeh Gittlit School.

We had a buddy system working, and we’d already forgotten the APTN cameraman at the Old Crow airport on the way to the party.

I wasn’t taking any risks.

Eight hours earlier, my day as an Olympic torch roadie began outside the Alkan Air hanger in Whitehorse.

The torch, just beginning its three-month journey across the country, isn’t an easy thing to keep up with.

Darius Elias, the MLA from Old Crow, carried a snowmobile windshield wrapped in plastic on board the King Air propeller plane that would fly us around the northern Yukon.

Elias usually brings amenities with him when he goes back home, he said on the plane.

The torch and its entourage were travelling in a larger, faster 737 aircraft.

We were now in a day-long race to beat the bigger plane.

Like groupies following the band wherever they go, we were doing anything to follow the flame.

After an hour’s flight, we landed in Dawson City while it was still dark.

Along the airport’s tarmac, a man emerged from the 737 with a glowing light swinging at his side.

Jim Richards, the torch-relay director, was barely perceptible in his grey and green uniform.

All you could see was the flame.

“This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever held, next to my son,” said Elaine Taylor, as she held the small lantern carrying the flame.

A van quickly took us downtown. Taylor’s speech was timed down to the minute. As soon as she was done, we had to rush back to the van and then the plane to make it to Old Crow.

Along’s Dawson’s relay route, Canadian Rangers stood in their red and dark-green uniforms, setting up sawhorses to control traffic. People came out of their homes and offices, to watch the torchbearers. Hundreds of schoolchildren had glow-in-the-dark whistles, and a high-pitched chorus of squeaks reached its peak just as the relay got under way.

Then, Margie Kormendy, the first torchbearer, finally arrived.

Kormendy smiled despite relay officials barking orders at her, telling Kormendy where to stand for the perfect camera angle. Photographers rubbed elbows and hustled for a better shot.

An Australian reporter and his cameraman redid their shoot nearly a dozen times. Each time they ran forward a few metres, because the torchbearer kept running outside of the shot.

The torch relay began to feel like a three-ringed circus. The publicity made it feel like a stunt.

What seemed like a pre-packaged party temporarily set up shop, got everyone really excited and then, just as quickly, left town.

But for Dawsonites, there was an authentic pride for its chosen few who carried the torch.

Kevin Mendelsohn, the final torchbearer in Dawson City, stood triumphantly above the crowd after finishing the relay’s final leg.

“Did you feel like a goddess or a god carrying the torch?” said the event’s MC to Mendelsohn.

“I felt like a delivery boy,” said Mendelsohn.

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in Singers chanted several ceremonial songs and a Tr’ondek elder offered a blessing.

Taylor plugged Australian Olympian Alisa Camplin

during her three minutes on stage. Camplin carried the torch in Dawson as part of an international marketing campaign designed to lure tourists to the territory.

Her participation, organized by the Canadian Tourism Commission and the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, would mean the Yukon would get some key television spots when Australia watches the Olympics in February, said Taylor.

Taylor finished her speech, and it was back to the race.

We knew we wouldn’t make it to Old Crow in time to beat the torch.

Somewhere above the northwestern Yukon, the 737 passed us.

Elias didn’t make it in time to be an official greeter in his hometown. But there was a two-hour celebration after the run, a virtual eternity in the world of torch relays.

Olympic officials were treated to caribou, a fashion show and a dance in Old Crow, bringing the relay’s spectacle back to earth.

But at the crack of the whip, the relay officials flowed back to their plane.

“Goodbye, Old Crow!” yelled one relay official in her grey and green track suit as she exited the school where the celebration had taken place.

With the sun setting low over the Porcupine River, the 737 took off, picking up dust on Old Crow’s tiny runway.

“It looks like they forgot this,” said Lorraine Netro, holding a burnt-out torch stained black from the flame.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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