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|| News Item: Posted 2001-12-19

Torching Toward Salt Lake City
By Todd Warshaw

Photo by
(Editors note: Todd Warshaw is covering the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Torch Relay as a freelancer on assignment for Allsport. Following is a dispatch from Todd on the road after the first 13 days.)

The official title of the event is the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Torch Relay. Notice it's not the torch 'run'. Nope.

It could be the torch walk, torch amble, torch stroll - You get the idea. Now if the amazing participants who are carrying the torch WOULD run, we might not be taking 65 days to cover our 14,000 miles through 46 states. But, it's their moment, and while I don't know the story behind every one of them, the stories I do hear make me wish each one could keep carrying their torch for days.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: more sob stories and sappy happiness. I thought the same thing at first. But then you see the torchbearer's family running along with them, or an entire school turning out to cheer on their favorite teacher, or someone who has experienced some horrific tragedy who was able to set it aside for their 3-minute segment. During that 3 minutes of cheering and crowds and celebration, even the most jaded person can see the good that comes out of all of this.

We spend all day moving. 15 minute breaks a few times a day; a 1/2 hr lunch and dinner break most days as well. All day = 5am to 10pm, if we get done on time. Everything is done on the run, which takes a bit of getting used to. The whole crew is on the radio network (the first thing they handed me when I walked into the hotel was the handheld radio - after a few days I got used to the random voices in my ear!), so if you listen, you'll know when and where everything is happening. That doesn't help the visiting media, who jump off at a stop and haven't heard where the bathrooms are, where the food is, and what time we're leaving. And make no mistake about it- we leave. No matter who you are if you aren't on board you can catch up later. Granted, most of the time we're moving 2-3 MPH

The main media platform (Media 1) is a motorhome with a platform on the back to shoot off of. It's a very workable system and while it can get a bit crowded in bigger markets, everyone has been great about working together and being flexible to allow all to get their shots. When we go into areas with roads that can't accommodate the motorhomes or very heavy snow, we transfer to a Chevy Avalanche (Media 2) outfitted with 5 shooting positions.

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport
Not especially looking forward to those times we're sure to have when the snow won't allow us to stay on the nice warm motorhome and we'll be sent to the open truck for the day! Being part of the crew, I also have the opportunity to shoot from one of the escort motorcycles, which allows for quite a variety of views.

There are about 10 vehicles and 50 people on the core caravan- the group that is actually traveling with the torchbearers. When parked bumper to bumper, this procession fills 2 city blocks. So you can imagine what a distance we cover when moving, plus the addition of local police and medical vehicles that rotates in each city.

We have GOT to be the most brutal rolling traffic block ever to hit the streets of the USA. But I have to admit, traveling with police escort ALL of the time is pretty damn cool. Might even be worth trying to get elected just to enjoy ignoring red lights!

One of the biggest surprises to me upon joining the team a week before we started was we have nearly 200 people making this happen on the road. Not only the 50 or so who work on the main caravan, but teams that go ahead and set up the hotels, meals, laundry, shipping, routing, vehicle maintenance, celebrations, etc. Teams that stay behind to wrap up after we leave, cargo teams to handle our luggage and equipment, even wash teams that wash EVERY SINGLE vehicle nightly, all 70-odd trucks, motorhomes and motorcycles.

About 2 weeks before I left, my gear showed up. Great Marker Ski stuff- a huge roller bag, backpack, gloves, hats, socks, pants, polo shirts, fleece pullovers and a vest, a heavy ski jacket. Hmmm, only one criticism- the predominant color is PURPLE! Officially we're ensconced in 'mountain shadow' (light blue) and 'lappas' (purple to normal people). Not so surprisingly, the longer you wear this stuff the more blue it looks! (Or so we tell ourselves). The fleece sheds a bit, the little pieces of purple fluff all over our cloths are lovingly referred to as 'Smurf snot'. See- the fun never ends... Well, there's no mistaking the crewmembers for a random bystander!

Photo by
Day 1 - The excitement has been building for a while now- some people on the crew are 2+ years into it, I've only been involved for a week. Regardless, it's time to get the show on the road. No one needs the 4am wake up call- we're ready to go. The Delta plane pulls up to the cameras, the Olympic Flame is passed onto US soil, and we're rolling. The first day of any new project is a period of adjustment, and this is even more so!

I quickly realized that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and I can make my pictures accordingly. If I'm in strip mall hell (also dubbed 'Genericana'), no need to force a crappy photo, I can cover what I need to and work the better scenery that much harder when it comes up. Things go smoothly, although we do come in a few hours late. I discover something else that I didn't expect - at the hotel most of the crewmembers I see are coming up and asking what it was like, how things look, etc. It hadn't occurred to me that only a very limited number of the people making this happen are SEEING any of it!

Day 2 - We're in NASCAR County! Of our 8 'celebs' running today, 7 are NASCAR drivers. Oddly enough, the big crowds don't turn out for the drivers - they turn out for the 'normal' torchbearers. Hundreds of family and friends run the segment with a random elderly woman, yet Kyle Petty gets the people who happened to see the lights and came out side to see what the fuss was about. As it should be, at least in my eyes.

Day 3 - The travel is starting to wear us down a bit- late nights, early starts and hot weather make everyone a bit edgy. Thankfully we've gotten to know each other very well in a very short time, so no one gets upset easily. Rock Hill SC is a great small town- seemed like everyone came out to welcome us. Even had a fake snowfall over the torchbearer. (It was over 80, this was a nice reminder we're doing this for a WINTER Olympics!)

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport
That evening we're putting the Flame on a coast guard cutter in Charleston SC, so I jump ahead to scout out the docks and see what we can do. I see something here I hadn't had the privilege to witness yet- the people in these towns and cities we roll through are amazing - one hundred trucks, a few hundred people and unfathomable traffic get dumped on them, and yet their first reaction to us is 'Thanks. This is great.' Every single person I've been able to speak to have thanked us for bringing this moment so close to them, and wished us well for the rest of our journey. Wow!

Day 4 - This turns into one of the hardest days on the trip (so far -still have 61 days to go!). We'll be splitting the convoy into 3 groups - one stays with the flame as it journeys through South FL, one group goes on to Mobile AL and the other goes to Ft Lauderdale before heading back to Mobile. But before we do that, we get to run with the flame on the beach in Daytona! I finally see the photo I've been hoping for since we began- the torchbearer, a torch, a flame, waves and clouds. Nothing more. Perfect! The day ends about 2 hours late, and then we load up for the journey to Ft Lauderdale. We arrive just in time to see the sun rise, grab a shower and get back on the road. (Side note: this is the last time I'll see my luggage for 5 days!)

Day 5 - I'd never seen a 15x20-foot cake before. Huge! Decorated as an American flag in North Miami Beach, it was quite a sight! The chef who made it carried the torch into the plaza, cut the first piece, and gave away pieces in return for a donation of any amount to a charity fund. Good cake!

This is also the day we realize that all of this gear they gave us- the heavy polo shirts, the many fleece items, heavy jacket, gloves, hats - not so great in 85 degree weather! The 2 t-shirts are long gone into the laundry pile, so it's an exercise in heat tolerance. Time to ride the motorcycle to air out a bit, check out some different shots. Not to mention grab a few minutes of sleep during the freeway segments - any little bit helps after last night. As 20 of us check into our Miami hotel, the rest of the South FL crew turns around and heads out on a 14-hour drive to Mobile. (I still don't know my luggage is MIA- I'm prepared for 3 days without the main convoy)

Day 6 - After a quick charter flight to Mobile, we're rolling again - this time without Media 1, since it's still en route from Miami. After getting clipped into my shiny new Petzl climbing harness and attached to the rigging on Media 2, we get a nice breath of fresh air and a little change of scenery. In Biloxi MS, we're entertained by a couple rollerblading with their baby girl in a stroller. Stayed with us the entire 1.5-hour jaunt, they tell us they had planned to ride a bit and check it out, and were so excited they stuck it out.

The little girl seemed more entertained by the Krispy Kreme doughnut she was playing with, but it was good for a smile! By now, we're listening to the radio traffic hoping for signs that Media 1 is nearby. It's become a 2nd home, and a couple hours without being able to walk around, edit photos, grab a cold coke out of the fridge- it's getting tough!

Finally about midday the Miami convoy catches us and we reform in our full caravan formation. Some of us get a bit of a reprieve tonight - time to travel by rail. 20 of us are on the official Union Pacific Torch Relay Train. I'd never traveled by train before- it's a great experience! 1st class food and service, time to sleep, relax with a drink in the Dome car and watch the Olympic Flame light up the country side (the caboose has been converted to a cauldron car that is lit when we travel by train). (I find out that the truck carrying the luggage for the train passengers, that was supposed to drop our bags in Livonia LA had to double back and pick up ALL the luggage when our luggage carrier broke down. As a result, my luggage (and several others) got put back into the wrong truck... The RON staff (RON is the overnight advance team that handles all the accommodations, logistics, etc) begins the search....)

Day 7 - We roll off the train straight into the waiting caravan, jumping on Media 1 just as the torchbearer runs off the train himself. It's a juggling act between being in a good position, being on media 1 or a bike, and/or running along with the torchbearer. Things go great in Houston - Huge crowds, good weather and even some runners! Smiley Pool kept us posted on locations to expect big crowds, and we weren't disappointed. (Hmmm, a city looking to win a bid to host an upcoming Olympic Games...)

We come into the evening celebration on schedule - the first time yet. I've jumped ahead to shoot the final torchbearer as she runs onto stage in Houston's Convention Center. While we're waiting the flame's arrival '84 Gold Medal winner Mary Lou Retton entertains the thousands crowded into the building with impromptu back flips down the red carpet, before taking the flame onto stage when it arrives.

(My luggage is still a mystery, but my clean laundry has been located so that is sent to the train and I'm in good shape for several more days. Now a pelican case with non-critical gear is also not showing itself.)

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport
Day 8 - Through San Antonio and Austin, we have crappy weather for the first time. RAIN. Heavy rain! And as it turns out, our nifty jackets are water-resistant, not water proof. Ugh. We do get a nice scene on the San Antonio Riverwalk, and the Alamo. In Austin we have a double treat - not only is Lance Armstrong riding a 2 mile segment with some fellow cancer survivors, but just before he rides his wife is running and he joins us on Media 1 to cheer her on. Egg her on, actually. The woman gave birth to twins less than a month ago, yet Lance still tells her she's not running fast enough! The police escorts aren't as exciting since we can't go too fast in the rain. Back on the train for a trip to Fort Worth overnight. (My luggage? No sign of it...)

Day 9 - Fort Worth and Dallas today - weather has cleared a bit so it's dry, even a bit of sun. The crew is getting pretty tired- all these train rides I'm on mean the convoy is on the road so they'll be ahead of us, and Texas is a big state! The end of this stretch is in sight, and then we'll be back to a 'regular' convoy. The crowds today are great, very energetic and fun. Then at the end of the evening, back on the train for some great food and a bit of sleep. Unfortunately for a few of us, it's very little sleep. (Found the luggage! We have no idea where it was, there seems to be a black hole that sucks things in from time to time, but they always turn up. I leave it on the truck, since it's just one more thing to take off the trainin a day or so.)

Day 10 - We're up at 4am to cover a 4:45-6am trip through Texarkana, Texas/Arkansas. Now, it's 5am, and we have CROWDS! Not like in Houston, but for a small town at the hour we were there, they showed up. It was great! Then back on the train for a jump to Arkedalphia, where we say goodbye to the train crew for a few weeks (we pick it back up in Omaha on our way west). On to Little Rock and some rain, but still have some decent crowds come out. Get reunited with my luggage, plus all the staff people I haven't seen in 4 days. It's funny- I only met this group of people 2 weeks ago, but we spend so much time together it seems like a lot longer. We get finished a bit earlier, and get to relax for an hour or so and tell stories from our various jobs on the caravan.

Day 11- Today has a variety of cool looking stuff - torchbearer reflecting in the water, putting the flame on a riverboat across the Mississippi River, more reflections (rain is good for SOMETHING!). We finish ahead of schedule for the first time, and we're able to get out for a relaxing evening on Beale Street in Memphis. Being back on the full caravan has given everyone some breathing room, and just a little more rest. We're entertained at our hotel dinner by Elvis Presley leading the crew in some songs. It's starting to feel like we've been on the road forever, and we're not even 1/3 done yet. One of the video crew editors breaks out pictures of his kids, and rotates a new one on the wall each day - anything to help make things seem 'normal'.

Day 12 - We hit the best small town yet - Jackson Tennessee. When we roll into a town with a break site, the local people have been great in every town - food, bathrooms, just generally supporting us and pointing us in the right direction. But Jackson was a whole new level of hospitality - gift bags full of cool little toys (we're cooped up on a motorhome all day - a kazoo can bring hours of entertainment!) and a great lunch.

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport
Again, I can't get over how much people welcome us and enjoy the 20 minutes we spend in their towns! We hit Nashville today, just a dreary day without much scenery. It's tough on everyone who's shooting - video and still - because this is such a long gig that having a day with not much to shoot seems much more painful than it might otherwise. But the highlight of the day for me is that I got my turn to run with the torch! From time to time there are last-minute vacancies, and they fill us into them, each of us gets one turn to run. It was a blast, I suddenly understand why many of the torchbearers take their time! But, we don't have that choice- when the crew runs, we run to try and make up some time, so it went by very quickly. An Olympic torch with soot on it makes about the coolest souvenir I have yet to see!

Day 13 - On to Bowling Green and Louisville today, amid rain and cold weather. From time to time we hear CB traffic - once the truckers figure out what the police-escorted convoy is (we're well-labeled), the discussions turn to "Don't those fools realize Utah is WEST??? Why are they goin' EAST???!!!" HA! If they only knew...

It's been a hell of an experience so far, and I expect it to be even more so over the next 50-odd days. We've got DC, NYC and New England just ahead, then start heading towards San Diego and the West coast, a quick jaunt to Alaska and then a loop through the states surrounding our destination before spending our last 4 days touring throughout Utah en route to reaching Salt Lake City on the evening of Feb. 8, 2002.

(What do Todd Warshaw and Sports Shooter publisher Bert Hanashiro have in common? Great photographers? Fine human beings? Fabulous taste in clothes and wine? NO! They're both Fresno State Bulldogs!)

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