LORD Coe witnessed the Olympic flame pass through Yorkshire as he claimed the build-up to the London Games has surpassed his expectations with the Torch’s tour around Britain capturing the nation’s hearts.
The four-times medal winner, who is spearheading the organisation of the Olympics, said the relay has been “fantastic” and has played a crucial role in igniting passion for the event in even the remotest parts of the UK.
Lord Coe was in Richmond when the Torch passed through the North Yorkshire market town yesterday.
The former middle-distance Olympic runner, who is due to carry the flame next week in Sheffield where he grew up, officially opened Richmond School, which has undergone a four-year revamp costing £32m.
“It’s fantastic – this is what it is all about,” he said. “When we planned the Torch relay and planned the route I was always absolutely certain that it would release excitement and passion.
“And now, every time somebody picks up that Torch, there’s an extraordinary contribution that sits behind their story. This is exactly what we set out to achieve – and to get the flame to as many people as we could.”
He added: “The Games would be unsustainable if we’d just talked about London for the past seven years. It was very important for me that London was where we staged the Games – the city had to be big enough globally. But we were also very clear that this had to be a UK-wide project.”
Tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire revealed the relay has surpassed expectations for visitor numbers while in the region. About 23,000 people were at York Racecourse on Tuesday evening for an event which saw showjumping legend Harvey Smith carry the flame on horseback. Up to 250,000 spectators saw the Torch when it arrived in Yorkshire on Monday and almost 200,000 on Tuesday. The Torch, which heads into Cumbria today, will return to West Yorkshire on Sunday.
The relay resumed in York yesterday from the Minster after the flame had spent the night in the city. Teenager Jessica Hoggarth-Hall celebrated her 14th birthday by carrying the Torch on its first leg and claimed the honour was the “best present ever”.
She looked faintly embarrassed as she was given a chorus of Happy Birthday from the hundreds of people who had gathered outside the Minster to kick off day 33 of the Torch’s 70-day tour of Britain and Ireland. As the teenager set off for her 300-metre stretch she was cheered by friends from All Saints’ RC School in York.
Jessica said: “It’s amazing. It feels a bit surreal but I’ve got it now. It’s an honour, I feel really privileged. I didn’t think there’d be this many people.”
The Olympic flame was then carried by a train for the second time in three days after travelling on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway on Monday. Josephine Loughran was given the honour of carrying the flame on a train pulled by Scots Guardsman – one of two remaining LMS Royal Scot Class locomotives – from York’s National Railway Museum to Thirsk.
Miss Loughran, 54, from Esholt, near Shipley, underwent surgery to give a lung lobe to her sister Sheila, who had cystic fibrosis but has since passed away.
She said: “I feel particularly privileged as I have been able to spend the best part of an hour with the flame on the train. It is like magic dust lighting up the country, it is bringing a little piece of magic to people wherever it goes.”
The Torch later arrived at what has been described as the finest view of England, Sutton Bank, near Thirsk, where it was carried by surgeon Philip Perry, 60, from Scarborough. He said: “There’s been a real feel good factor... I think the people of North Yorkshire have been very proud to host the Olympic flame.”