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2002 torch run inspires memories of 1984 passage

Brief by Central Staff

Olympics – March 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine –

On Feb. 1, the Olympic Torch came through Central Colorado on its way to the Feb. 8 opening of the winter games in Salt Lake City. Along the way, it drew big crowds at celebrations in Buena Vista and Leadville, where burro racer Tom Sobal carried the torch on snowshoes.

Winter Olympic torch going through Buena Vista on Feb. 1, 2002

But it wasn’t exactly a “once in a lifetime event” — the Olympic Torch passed through these parts 18 years ago, en route from the United Nations building in New York City to the summer games in Los Angeles.

Olympic Torch is Central Colorado
Olympic Torch is Central Colorado

The torch went to Santa Fé, then north into the San Luis Valley and across Poncha Pass to Nathrop on June 21. Then it went east over Trout Creek Pass, to Colorado Springs, north to Denver, then west along U.S. 40 to Vernal, Utah, and points west.

Former Salida resident Christine Vena Connett recalled the occasion:

“My mom loaded up the van and took us to the top of Poncha Pass on U.S. 285 to wait for the torch. I remember waiting for what seemed like an eternity but when it finally came along, the experience was well worth the wait. Since we were the only fans on the route for miles around we were all given the opportunity to hold the torch. My memento of the occasion is a photo of my best friend, Holly Carpenter, and I holding the torch together.

“I was mentioning my experience to some co-workers this week and they were incredulous that I was able to actually hold the torch. It is a testament to how much our society has changed. Today the torch is surrounded by a cavalcade of media and security that creates a hubbub of activity and ‘official’ torch celebrations in every community … I can honestly say that I miss the good old days.”

Jones Peak in Chaffee County was almost bare as the Olympics started
Jones Peak in Chaffee County was almost bare as the Olympics started

Jack Beattie, one of the Colorado runners, recalled that the torch was run the entire route, either by a “local hero” for a kilometer, or a “cadre runner” like him. “That experience truly was a ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure for all of us who ran the torch several miles each day for a week.”