Olympians Catriona Le May Doan and Simon Whitfield first torchbearers at
start of Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay's 45,000-kilometre journey across
Canada

VICTORIA, Oct. 30 /CNW/ - The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay is officially underway with medal-winning Olympians Simon Whitfield and Catriona Le May Doan revealed today as the first torchbearers to hold the Olympic Flame aloft on Canadian soil at the start of the historic 106-day journey.

They were quickly joined in their torch bearing duties by fellow Canadian Olympic medallists, rower Silken Laumann and diver Alexandre Despatie as the flame set out on Day 1 of its odyssey across Canada.

Each pair jointly held the flame as they jogged through the crowds on the grounds and nearby streets of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria, BC, where a public welcoming ceremony was held for the arrival of the Olympic Flame from Greece.

Whitfield, a triathlon star and hometown hero in Victoria, won the first ever gold medal in triathlon at the Sydney 2000 Games and silver at the Beijing 2008 Games, while speed skater Le May Doan is the only Canadian to ever repeat as a gold medallist in two consecutive Olympic Games. Victoria rower Laumann has medalled at three Olympic Games including a courageous bronze in 1992 following a serious injury, while Despatie is a two-time medallist and the first Canadian man to win an Olympic diving medal.

The four athletes, chosen as role models who have inspired the nation, embody the Olympic Spirit and continue to make Canadians proud as they strive for excellence both on and off the field of play.

Upon the relay's conclusion on February 12, 2010 with the start of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the flame will have burned brightly in over 1,030 Canadian communities and reached within 900 kilometres of the North Pole.

"The flame embodies the Olympic ideals of excellence, friendship and respect. These values resonate deeply with all Canadians," said Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, as he welcomed the flame at the public ceremony in downtown Victoria.

"The Olympic Flame will be travelling across Canada on the longest torch relay within a single country in Olympic history. With nearly 200 communities across Canada participating in local celebrations, this is a chance for Canadians from all parts of our great nation to share in the excitement as we count down to the Games' opening day."

With the glow of the Olympic Flame guiding their way, a ceremonial party of First Nations chiefs paddled across the waters of Victoria's Inner Harbour this morning towards the public welcoming ceremony cradling the flame from the dramatic jutting bow of a traditional canoe.

On shore, onlookers waved Canadian flags as they lined the harbourfront and sweeping green lawns of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings craning for their first look at the flame.

Traditionally painted with a Salish sea wolf on the blade-like bow, the Four Host First Nations canoe carrying the flame - a 13.5-metre ocean-going craft hand-carved from a single towering West Coast red cedar - was flanked on the historic voyage by two other canoes manned by representatives of the local First Nations who sang traditional songs.

Before docking, the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh chiefs asked permission to come ashore and passed the Olympic Flame, protected in a miner's lantern, to fellow leaders of the Songhees and Esquimalt nations upon whose traditional territories the Parliament Buildings stand. After a brief ceremony conducted in accordance with Salish protocols, the chiefly procession then carried the flame to a stage setup on the grounds for the start of the welcoming ceremony, accompanied by Aboriginal flame attendants Dina Ouellette and Aronhiaies Herne.

In a tribute to Jack Poole during the ceremony, the crowd bowed their heads in a moment of silence. The chairman of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games' (VANOC) board of directors passed away last week just hours after the flame was lit by the sun in Olympia, Greece.

To honour his memory, Poole's wife, Darlene, ignited a small torch with the Olympic Flame and set the 1.2-metre community celebration cauldron ablaze on stage. This same cauldron will be lit in nearly 200 celebration communities across Canada as part of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay.

"What a magical moment," said John Furlong, VANOC's Chief Executive Officer. "We are embarking on an odyssey that we hope will shine a bright light on the people and places of Canada, starting right here in Victoria. For 106 days, we will have the time of our lives finishing back here in British Columbia for an Olympic Winter Games we hope will be marked in history as among the best."

Earlier this morning, at approximately 8:45 am (Pacific Time), the Olympic Flame touched down on Canadian soil at Victoria International Airport after flying for almost 24 hours on board a Canadian Forces CC-150 Polaris (Airbus A-310) aircraft from Athens, Greece, where the flame was entrusted to Canadian officials by members of the Hellenic Olympic Committee.

The flame was carried off the plane in a miner's lantern by Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver: the Host City of the Games, as the stirring skirls of a solo bagpiper filled the early morning air. The Canadian prime minister and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell were among the dignitaries on hand for the flame's arrival celebrated with a 50-member honour guard.

A flyby of four CF-18 jets from the 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron soared overhead later as VANOC revealed the identities of Whitfield and Le May Doan as the first torchbearers to carry the flame in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay, presented by Coca-Cola and RBC and supported by the Government of Canada. As the audience cheered, the pair ran through the crowd proudly carrying the curved metre-long winter white torch, officially starting the 106-day relay's 45,000-kilometre journey across Canada.

Moments later on Belleville Street, near the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the first torchbearer flame handover took place with Laumann and Despatie jointly assuming the duties - the first of 12,000 such exchanges marking the passing of the sacred fire to a new torchbearer. All 12,000 torchbearers will carry torches designed and manufactured by Bombardier and wear white uniforms accented with bright bursts of blue and green on the jacket's left arm, provided by the Hudson's Bay Company as keepsakes of their moment in Olympic history.

"The Olympic Torch Relay brings the spirit and energy of the Olympics to communities throughout British Columbia and across Canada," said Premier Campbell. "With the arrival of the flame on Vancouver Island, we are marking the start of an historic journey that will connect all Canadians and focus the eyes of the nation and the world on British Columbia when the relay ends here in just 105 days to kick-off the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games."

Today on Day 1 of the relay, the flame will visit 11 communities and places of interest in the Capital Regional District of the province and be carried by 147 torchbearers over 90 kilometres on foot, bike and boat. Among the areas visited are two Aboriginal communities - the first of more than 100 First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities the flame will visit across Canada. More than 600 Aboriginal people are also playing important roles in the relay, such as torchbearers and honorary elder fire keepers.

Tonight, the Parliament Buildings in Victoria will once again welcome the Olympic Flame - this time as the site of the first community celebration of the 2010 torch relay. The celebration will include dance, theatre, visual and performance art, multimedia technology, and pyrotechnics. Members of the Victoria Symphony and hundreds of First Nations drummers and Les Cornouillers dancers will perform as the Parliament Buildings are painted in light with massive projections. Jeneece Edroff, 15, will light the community celebration cauldron on stage after she was selected by the community as their final torchbearer of the day.

For more information on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay visit www.vancouver2010.com/torchrelay.

Daily media highlights, including details on notable torchbearers, images, broadcast quality video and editorial content for each day of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay are available to the media on FLAME, the torch relay digital asset management system. To register for FLAME, visit www.vancouver2010.com/flame, click 'Visit FLAME' and then 'Register now'.

Note to Photo Editors: Photos from the arrival ceremonies for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay in Victoria, BC, will be posted to the media centre at www.vancouver2010.com.

About VANOC

VANOC is responsible for the planning, organizing, financing and staging of the XXI Olympic Winter Games and the X Paralympic Winter Games in 2010. The 2010 Olympic Winter Games will be staged in Vancouver and Whistler from February 12 to 28, 2010. Vancouver and Whistler will host the Paralympic Winter Games from March 12 to 21, 2010. Visit www.vancouver2010.com.

About Coca-Cola and the Olympic Movement

The Coca-Cola Company has been associated with the Olympic Games since 1928 and is the longest continuous corporate supporter of the Olympic Movement. Through the Olympic Games, Coca-Cola encourages people to create their own path of "positivity" in everyday life by believing that anything is possible. The Company's sponsorship supports National Olympic Committees in more than 200 countries to help athletes train and compete. The Coca-Cola Company is the exclusive non-alcoholic beverage provider to the Olympic Games through 2020. For more information about Coca-Cola Canada, please visit our website at www.cocacola.ca or our parent company's website at www.thecoca-colacompany.com.

About RBC

As part of our commitment to helping create a better Canada, RBC sponsors amateur sport, from grassroots programs in local communities to national sport associations that support the development of amateur athletes who compete at home and abroad. Canada's longest-standing supporter of the Canadian Olympic Team since 1947, RBC continues its sponsorship through the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and is proud to bring the Olympic Spirit to communities across Canada as presenting partner of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay. RBC is also a premier sponsor of Hockey Canada, the Canadian Snowboard Team, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team, Athletics Canada and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Visit www.rbc.com/sponsorship.

About the Government of Canada

The Government of Canada is proud to make 2010 a celebration for all Canadians. Through strategic investments in programming and funding, the spirit and excitement will be felt far and wide and leave lasting legacies for future generations. Through the Olympic Torch Relay, the Government of Canada is supporting citizen and community participation, as well as the inclusion of Aboriginal, ethnocultural and official-language communities. For more information on the Government of Canada's contribution to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, visit www.Canada2010.gc.ca.

    
    BACKGROUNDER

    Participants in arrival ceremonies for Olympic Flame in Victoria, BC,
October 30, 2009

    Airport Arrival Ceremony at 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron hangar,
    Victoria International Airport

    Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
    Gary Lunn, Minister of State (Sport), Government of Canada
    The Honourable Steven Point, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
    Gordon Campbell, Premier of British Columbia
    Colin Hansen, Deputy Premier of British Columbia
    Mary McNeil, Minister of State (Olympics), Government of British Columbia
    Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver
    Ken Melamed, Mayor of Whistler
    John Furlong, VANOC CEO
    Chief Bruce Underwood, Pauquachin First Nation
    Chief Ivan Morris, Tsartlip First Nation
    Councillor Lou Claxton, Tsawout First Nation
    Chief Vern Jack, Tseycum First Nation
    Rear Admiral Tyrone Pile, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific,
     Department of National Defence
    Nikolas (Nikos) Koumettis, President, Coca-Cola Canada
    Graham MacLachlan, Regional President, RBC, British Columbia

    Flyby CF-18 pilots from 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron at arrival
    ceremonies for airport and Parliament Buildings

    Lead - Major Dave Moar, Saskatoon, SK
    2 - Captain Mark Hickey, Clarenville, NL
    3 - Captain Lorne Claymore, Ste-Adele, QC
    4 - Captain Dave Chamberlin, Montreal, QC

    Four Host First Nations Canoe, Victoria's Inner Harbour

    Chief Leonard Andrew, Lil'wat Nation
    Chief Ernest Campbell, Musqueam Nation
    Chief Bill Williams, Squamish Nation
    Chief Justin George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation
    Chief Gibby Jacob, VANOC Board of Directors
    Joanne John, Lil'wat Nation
    Alec Dan, Musqueam Nation
    Chief Ian Campbell, Squamish Nation
    Gabe George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation
    Larry Nahanee, Skipper

    Arrival Ceremony, Dock in Victoria's Inner Harbour

    Chief Andy Thomas, Esquimalt First Nation
    Chief Robert Sam, Songhees First Nation
    Chief Leonard Andrew, Lil'wat Nation
    Chief Ernest Campbell, Musqueam Nation
    Chief Bill Williams, Squamish Nation
    Chief Justin George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation
    Chief Gibby Jacob, VANOC Board of Directors

    Arrival Ceremony, British Columbia Parliament Buildings

    Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
    Gary Lunn, Minister for State (Sport), Government of Canada
    Gordon Campbell, Premier of British Columbia
    Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver
    Ken Melamed, Mayor of Whistler
    Dean Fortin, Mayor of Victoria
    John Furlong, VANOC CEO
    Chief Robert Sam, Songhees First Nation
    Chief Andy Thomas, Esquimalt First Nation
    Nikolas (Nikos) Koumettis, President, Coca-Cola Canada
    Graham MacLachlan, Regional President, RBC, British Columbia
    Marina Trikeriotis-Porter
    Darlene Poole
    Catriona LeMay Doan
    Simon Whitfield
    Silken Laumann
    Alexandre Despatie
    

SOURCE VANCOUVER ORGANIZING COMMITTEE FOR THE 2010 OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES

For further information: For further information: Media contact: Torch Relay Communications, Tel: (604) 403-9328, E-mail: media@torchrelay.vancouver2010.com

Organization Profile

VANCOUVER ORGANIZING COMMITTEE FOR THE 2010 OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES

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VANOC

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