The time I ran in the Sydney Olympics Torch Relay
Updated: Jul 29, 2020
For a 16 year old runner who lived in Sydney in 2000, the Sydney Olympics was one of the most exciting things that had happened, possibly ever. I remember finding out Sydney won the bid when I was about 11, and thought I was going to be so old by the time it finally got here. I lived in Concord West, walking distance to Olympic Park, and got to see the area go through a lot of changes.
But it wasn’t until we got much closer to the event that the real excitement set in. The first thing I remember was being told that special ticket packages were being made available to people who were registered participants in athletics. We bought two passes to the entire athletics program, one for me and a second one to be shared between the rest of my family. I spent months saving the money I made at my job to pay for it, and it was totally worth it.
Another exciting thing was having the opportunity to participate in an ‘athletics dress rehearsal’ with other teenage runners, the week before the program began. We warmed up at the current Sydney Olympic Park Athletic Centre, walked through the tunnel to the then ‘Stadium Australia’, went into the call room, did a bit more warming up on the indoor track, put all our gear into the buckets. I think we even had to cover any brand logos on our clothes with tape.
I definitely remember running the 800m, and vaguely remember running the 1500m. There is photo evidence of that, so it must have happened, apparently I came 5th!
For the 800m, we walked out on the track, went into our lanes and were introduced as various athletes who might have made up the 800m final at the time. The 100,000+ seat stadium was completely empty except for parents who had come along, the announcements echoing throughout it.
We ran our race, went back inside, got our gear and went back to the warm up the track. I can’t remember if the place getters were ‘drug tested’ or rehearsed a medal ceremony. I was a decent state level runner, but I wasn’t quick enough to keep up with the speedy girls who won the race (especially at 800m!).
Which is why I immediately felt a bit intimidated when I was first told about the Torch Relay Escort Runner program.
I can’t remember when exactly I heard about it, but my recollection is that high schools around the country were invited to nominate students who were athletes to apply to be an escort runner in the relay. An escort runner wasn’t be an official torch bearer, but would run with them in the relay, and would be representing their school.
When applications opened to be a torch bearer, but I remember thinking how awesome it would be to do. I don’t remember if there was an age limit on it, but I didn’t meet the criteria anyway, which was focused around community service.
At some point later, I was told that my school wanted me to apply for the Escort Runner program. It was explained that it was a program to get junior athletes involved in the torch relay, and I immediately felt that I wasn’t good enough. I think I might have thought that they thought I was better than I was, because there were essentially no one else at the school interested in distance running. I was down on confidence because I had finished little athletics and was struggling with the transition to senior athletics, and I wasn’t running as well as I did the year before. I vaguely remember that I might have even said initially that I didn’t want to apply.
I was told though that the vice principal wanted me selected, so I had to apply. I can’t remember what I wrote in my application, but it must have been good because I got picked!
I can’t remember how far in advance of the Olympics this was. Google tells me that the relay started in May, and got to Australia in June, so I assume it was sometime earlier in 2000.
When I thought about what it was going to be like, I pictured running with a torch bearer on an empty street, maybe I would be showing them the way or helping them somehow!
Obviously taking the escort part quite seriously. The news started to paint a different picture as the relay got started. We watched the highlights as it made its way around the country. Each time I noticed there were at least three people wearing the blue uniform I had been sent running with each torch bearer. I assumed that meant they had picked a few kids to go with each runner. I was also wrong about the empty street part too, there were always people around watching it go past. Not huge crowds, but often a handful on the side of the road as the runners went past with a motorbike. I think I had also seen a few highlights of the end of day cauldron lighting ceremonies.
But nothing could have prepared me for how it actually played out.
Wikipedia tells me that days 96-100 of the relay were in Sydney, going from Cronulla to Liverpool, then heading north to Parramatta and Pennant Hills, back down to Hunters Hill, having stops in the Eastern Suburbs and the city, before going out to Olympic Park for the start of the games.
Because the Escort Runner program was done through schools, it meant you were allocated a section of the relay nearby to your school. My school was in Woolwich, and day 98 was scheduled to end in a park in Hunters Hill (Gladesville technically). I found out that I was running with four torch bearers, the last four for the day. It also turned out that the other people in blue uniforms I had seen on TV were security, there was only one escort runner at a time. I was told that the torch bearers had been encouraged to let the escort runner hold the torch for a bit of their leg, so I might get to run with it briefly, but for the most part would be running next to them.
Who knows what goes on in the mind of a sixteen year old girl, but given that I lived in Sydney, it shouldn’t have been rocket science that I would have been towards the end. I probably did know when my slot was, but perhaps didn’t process it because I was nervous and still feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be part of it. I think I also thought it would spend than four days going around Sydney to include the whole city. I pictured it on back streets, running on the footpath, and that people might watch from their windows. Maybe most of the news clips I saw were in regional cities and towns, because I still didn’t think there would be many people watching, and I definitely didn’t anticipate road closures and vehicle escorts.
I was extremely nervous when we drove up, I can’t remember at all where my starting point was, somewhere in Gladesville. There were SO MANY people, it was crazy. I was massively overwhelmed.
When the torch bearer arrived, all the people crowded around him trying to get a look at it and hold it. He let a few people hold it while we waited. I remember trying to see if the cars were coming towards us, it felt like there were just people everywhere on the road. I guess eventually they cleared them out, because when the car came through everyone was off the road. The torch bearer finishing his leg lit the torch of the one I was running with, and we were on our way.
I can’t remember how long each leg was, not super long, and I was feeling pretty lucky to be doing four legs. I don’t remember everything from the run, but I do remember bits and pieces. There were people lined along the streets the whole way, each of the first three torch bearers did let me hold the torch it for a little bit, one of them had to tell me to slow down because I got a bit excited and ran too fast, at each changeover, it was cool to stop and watch the new torch being lit.
When we reached the last torch bearer, we must not have been far from the park, and it had started to get dark. The torch bearer was John Anderson according to the notes on the back of my photos. He told me that we were doing it together, and I had to hold the torch with him the whole way. I took it with him as we started running, but definitely let go at one point, feeling like I shouldn’t steal his moment. He was having none of it though, and told me to keep carrying it.
We ran (more walked really) down some steps into Bedlam Bay Park in Gladesville. My memory of it is that it felt like we were in an event the size of the Royal wedding with thousands of people out to watch, lined up either side of the steps. Without any footage to confirm if that is what it was actually like, I’m going to keep telling that story! There was a makeshift path barricaded off for us to run through that led to a stage that was set up in the park.
I kept waiting for someone to tell me that I couldn’t go any further, but before I knew it, I was being ushered up on stage with the torch bearer to light the cauldron. Luckily it was dark enough that I couldn’t see the crowd, because I don’t really like being the centre of attention. Good thing I didn’t think about the fact it was on TV! I remember the flame being really hot when we leaned over to light the cauldron. After a bit of chat and a few interviews, it was all over and we were heading off the stage.
I got a certificate and a photo in the mail after the Olympics was over. The blue uniform is in a box at my parents house.
I also found this recently, which I wrote in a profile for my running club in 2011, which is a pretty good summary of the day!
Interesting things we may not know about you? I was lucky enough to be chosen to run as an escort runner in the torch relay for the 2000 Olympics. I didn’t realise how amazing the experience would be until the day, when I found out I would be running with 4 torch bearers and we had the last leg for the day. The last torch bearer I ran with one of the nicest people I have ever met, and let me carry the torch with him the entire way and light the cauldron to mark the end of the day at a park in Gladesville. It was fantastic and something I will always remember. I was even on TV!