Olympic torch drops by for Winnipeg plant visit

It's been at Mount Olympus, Greece, as well as the Canadian cities of Winkler, Enderby, Revelstoke and Tk'emlups. And on January 4, the Olympic torch made a surprise visit to MCI's Winnipeg plant.

When Guy Tessier, director of MCI fleet support for Canada, heard that members of the Winter Olympics torch-relay support team wanted a plant tour, he assumed it would be a typical visit — a walk through the E/J assembly line, a stop at the coach finishing facility and a wrap-up at the coach delivery center. He didn't know they'd be packing the ultimate symbol of the Olympics.

The five team members, some of whom had connections to MCI, arrived at about 9 a.m. with the unlit torch during a rest day before the team was scheduled to take the torch through the city of Winnipeg. "They arrived with the torch, and they handed it to me to carry," says Tessier. "It was pretty neat, and I tried to make sure as many employees as possible got to handle it as well."

Craig Armstrong, coach delivery coordinator, who also participated in the tour, didn't plan on handling the torch. "I was nervous about touching it, but then someone behind me asked, 'Can you hold onto this?' I was expecting a notebook or something. It was the torch."

Armstrong says the event drew nearby employees like moths to the proverbial flame. Tessier estimates at least 50 plant employees were able to get a closer look at the torch.

MCI employees likely learned as much about the torch as their guests did about building a coach. Armstrong, Tessier and others discovered that:

  • Each new torch is lit from one of several lanterns that keep the eternal flame. The same lanterns are used to light torches in the morning and after the airplane flight that brings the flame from Greece. The lanterns are also insurance against a flaming going out because of wind or bad weather.

  • Individual torches are powered by small canisters of fuel that only burn for about 20 minutes. The waning torch is used to relight one of the lanterns so the next leg can be run.

  • Torches weigh about three pounds and are made in Canada from a high-tech combination of plastic and metal.

  • Torches are made for each of the 12,000 bearers. Torch relay runners are given the opportunity to buy their torches after their stint at a cost of $400.

The torch relay is perhaps the most inclusive event of the Olympics, one that allows non-athletes to be an active part of the spectacle. "We have been thrilled with the welcome the torch relay has received in each of the communities we have visited," says Chris Shauf, torch relays media and public relations manager. "Through the torch relay, we are able to bring an Olympic experience to people in their own communities and are really making the 2010 Games for all Canadians."

MCI employees proved the sentiment true, even if the torch was displayed in a somewhat unofficial capacity. "It was a really cool experience," says Armstrong. "It made me more personally invested in watching the Olympics."

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