Comments & Curiosities -- Peter Buffa

Did you see it? Very cool. The Olympic torch made its way through the

land of Newport-Mesa last week on its globe-trotting trek from Greece to

Utah.

Exciting stuff, the Olympics, no? We did the 1984 L.A. Olympics thing

with everyone else, but this is the closest I've ever gotten to a Winter

Olympics. But by George, I may see one someday.

So how does the torch thing work? Is there only one torch? Is it

really the same flame that started in Greece? How do they pick the

torchbearers? Well maybe if we just settle down for a moment, I could

answer some of these questions.

Thank you so much.

Now then: The genuine, bona fide, real deal Olympic flame is set

ablaze in Greece in Olympia, outside Athens, three months before each set

of games. In addition to being famous for Hamm's beer, Olympia is the

site of the ancient Temple of Zeus, you know, Mt. Olympus, etc., etc. In

Greek mythology, Zeus was the goddest god of them all, the Top Cop, the

Big Fig.

Starting in 762B.C., to honor Zeus, manly men from all of Greece would

gather in Olympia and do manly, sweaty things, which is already more than

we need to know about that, thank you. The games began then, as now, with

the ceremonial lighting of a flame, along with speechifying, singing,

dancing and general merrymaking, all in Greek, of course.

For the 2002 Winter Olympics, 11,500 people will carry the torch on

its tortuous journey (Get it -- "torch--tortuous?" It's like a joke)

across the U.S., to Salt Lake City. Not only is there not one torch,

there are a zillion torches. All the torchbearers can buy a torch if they

wish, for $335 dollars, or drachmas, whichever is more convenient. What's

a Greek urn? About seven drachmas an hour. Sorry. That's about 80 years

old, wasn't funny then, still isn't, but it just popped into my head.

Some people think each torch is lit with a BIC lighter and the flame

has nothing to do with the mother flame in Olympia, but some people are

wrong. The flame is transported to the host country by air, in a special

caldron, a flame-keeper thing that travels with the torchbearers the

entire way. So even if a given torch has to be re-lit with a Zippo in the

hubbub of a run now and then, the next torch will be rekindled with the

original flame at the first opportunity. Pretty ingenious, those ancient

Greeks.

The glass and metal torches are 33 inches long and weigh 3 1/2 pounds.

That doesn't sound like much, but it is. Try holding up something that

weighs 3 1/2 pounds with one arm while you're running or walking 200

yards. Huff, puff, puff.

The flame will makes its way across the United States in 65 days,

traveling 13,500 miles across every state except Minnesota, North Dakota,

South Dakota and Hawaii. How rude is that? Hawaii I can understand, being

on the wrong side of the country from Greece. But what's the problem with

Minnesota and the Dakotas? I don't get it.

The flame will be carried by much more than runners, though. It'll be

transported in planes, trains and automobiles, to say nothing of ships,

dog sleds, horse-drawn sleighs, snowmobiles and by skiers, ice skaters

and ski jumpers. I don't understand the last one either. Just go with it.

But however the Olympic flame got here, on Tuesday last, it got here.

The Orange County run started at 7 a.m. in San Juan Capistrano, as the

first of 39 torchbearers worked their way up Pacific Coast Highway

through Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa before

being whisked up to Los Angeles in the Torch-Mobile.

In Newport Beach, Richard Stuetzel, 70, confidently delivered the

torch to the steps of City Hall, where Mayor Tod Ridgeway said mayor

things and everyone cheered with gusto and waved flags and things at

Richard and Mayor Tod, who waved back.

Costa Mesa was the next stop, where Mayor Linda Dixon greeted the

flame and said it looked hot, to which the flame replied, "Thanks!" Mayor

Linda then sent the flame on its way, in the Torch-Mobile, up the Costa

Mesa Freeway, and toward downtown L.A.

Now then, how are the bearers of the flame selected? I'm glad you

asked. More than 200,000 people were nominated to carry the flame and

were measured against this standard: "inspire others to greater

achievement; or motivate others by encountering and overcoming

adversity." Most of the torchbearers in Tuesday's festivities exemplified

that standard well, like Gabriela Bedolla, 27, who carried the flame

across the Arches Bridge and up Newport Boulevard, and is fighting

Hodgkin's disease; and Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner; and Tom

Frost of Rancho Santa Margarita, whose daughter, Lisa, perished in one of

the planes that struck the World Trade Center.

The picture got a really fuzzy, though, when the torch arrived in

Costa Mesa, carried proudly by a young man named Lance Bass. Do you know

who Lance Bass is? Neither did I. Lance Bass is a member of 'N Sync, the

boy band. Whew. Are you inspired? I know I am. I can hardly speak. I'm

going to color my hair platinum and get at least one body part pierced,

as soon as I decide which part. In fact, I am so inspired, I found some

lyrics for you from one of 'N Sync's big hits, "U Drive Me Crazy:" "I'm

feeling weak. I cannot sleep. My head is burning. I feel cold down to my

feet."

I wanna yell, "Somebody help!" Is there a cure for what I've got? Hmm,

not that I'm aware of, boys. But I think we're ready for the Olympics

now. I gotta go.

* PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays.

He may be reached via e-mail at o7 PtrB4@aol.comf7 .

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