Exactly halfway through the 70-day Torch Relay, the weather changed dramatically.
The sunshine that has followed the Torch pretty much everywhere it has travelled suddenly hid from us, and was replaced by storm clouds and high winds – really high winds, in fact, of up to 40 miles an hour.
As we travelled from Kendal in the Lake District towards Blackpool, the rain lashed down. But the public and the amazing Torch Relay team were undeterred. The Torchbearers donned waterproof ponchos and shivered on the roadside to wait patiently for their slots. The crowds rewarded them with cheers. Small children with rain dripping off their noses clapped their hands and shook the golden and rather soggy torches that they had made in school.
In the thick of things and getting more weather-worn than most was the Torch Security Team (TST). As I watched them getting drenched in the line of duty, I reflected on what an amazing team of individuals they are. Always smiling but constantly focused.
It is the job of the TST to protect the integrity of the Olympic Flame at all times and they have become something of a phenomenon in what is already a phenomenal Torch Relay.
These 35 men and women of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) were selected from 650 applicants. The youngest is 22, and the oldest is 50. They have been in training for 18 months and have a unique set of skills which they bring to their role. Of course, they are super fit – on a ‘running day’ they can cover up to 35 miles. But they also combine policing, protection and communication skills, all of which are on display in the way they interact with the Torchbearers and the public.
Come rain or shine they protect the Torchbearer and ensure that the Olympic Flame is exchanged properly at the point of the ‘kiss’. They are responsible for the safe transfer of the Flame back into the lantern when the day is done, and they protect it while we all sleep. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them after which they will all return to normal duties.
The public has taken them to their hearts, as have we, and they are now receiving dozens of emails of support from their MPS colleagues ever day.
As the Torch crew wear somewhat similar uniforms to the TST, I am regularly asked by people: ‘Are your legs sore?’ Sometimes I am tempted to pretend that I do, in fact, run all day and protect the Flame, but in truth I know that I cannot compare with this extraordinary group. I am very proud to call them part of our team.