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Ventura County

Torchbearers Salute Olympic Spirit

Games: Hundreds carry the flame through Southern California past enthusiastic crowds.

January 16, 2002|LIZ F. KAY and SANDRA MURILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Hundreds of torchbearers carried the Olympic flame through Los Angeles on Tuesday, igniting the enthusiasm of the thousands who cheered them along city streets.

The runners were a mix of Southern Californians: relatives of those who died on Sept. 11, movie stars, former Olympians and everyday people nominated by their friends.

The Olympic torch relay will cross the Ventura County border shortly before 9 a.m. as a pickup truck carrying the official caldron with the flame makes its way north on the Ventura Freeway. Oxnard boxer David Rodela will be the first torchbearer to carry the flame after it reaches Oxnard, and over the next two hours and 15 minutes it will work its way through parts of Oxnard and midtown and downtown Ventura. There will be public ceremonies at Oxnard's Plaza Park at 9:47 a.m. and at Ventura City Hall at 11:24 a.m.

The spectators were a mix of those there to honor individuals and to salute the Olympic spirit.

"When are we ever going to see this again?" asked set decorator Kristen Gassner, 32, of Eagle Rock. She and Shannon McGinnis, a 44-year-old movie prop worker from Echo Park, jumped up and down and shrieked like teenagers as the torch approached.

They were in downtown Los Angeles, near Broadway and 8th Street, yelling for runner R. Doyle Campbell, a man they had never met.

Campbell, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department special operations chief, is a cancer survivor who underwent a liver transplant 17 years ago. Since then, he has worked to bring attention to the need for organ donors.

In East Los Angeles, 15-year-old torchbearer Dean Green had a built-in cheering section as he ran near the intersection of Breed and Cesar E. Chavez streets. The La Puente teenager is scheduled to earn an Eagle Scout award for community service.

"We had a good reason to ask for the day off from work," said his aunt, Lupe Dillon, 48, of Whittier, as family members and friends cheered Dean and took pictures.

In Chinatown, torchbearer Gary Conlin covered his stretch in a wheelchair as more than 100 of his friends lined Broadway, waving signs and flags.

"I wanted to get up out of my chair and really run when I saw them," said the 41-year-old from Fullerton, who has Lou Gehrig's disease. "It was really exciting being a part of history."

Conlin got an ovation from the lunch crowd when he wheeled himself into Philippe's restaurant after his relay stint.

Applause followed torchbearers every step of a route that took them through downtown and Koreatown, along Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile, through West Hollywood, along Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard and out to Universal City in the San Fernando Valley.

The flame's Los Angeles visit started at Olvera Street, where runner Jason Murry, 20, of South-Central Los Angeles lit his torch from a flaming caldron carried by a truck.

From the bandstand, Mayor James K. Hahn told a crowd of about 2,000 to "take a moment to stop and salute the Olympic flame and say how proud you are the Olympics are in the United States."

Ray Erwin, 49, of Downey stood on a brick wall as he filmed the scene with his video camera. He wore a vest with 75 Olympic pins, souvenirs of the six past Olympics he has attended.

Murry waved as he hoisted his torch and jogged down Los Angeles Street, beneath an arch formed by firetruck aerial ladders.

At the Coliseum, Mayra Torres, who has run two marathons and is training for her third, didn't even break a sweat while carrying the torch up to the stadium's rooftop Olympic flame, previously ignited by storied Olympian Rafer Johnson to start the 1984 Games.

"I felt really proud to be doing something that so many athletes had done," said the 18-year-old senior from San Fernando High School. She is part of Students Run Los Angeles, a nonprofit group that trains students for the Los Angeles Marathon.

"It's like history," said David Howard, 14, of West Angeles Christian Academy, who joined nine other student council members at the Coliseum ceremony. "For me to see it in person, it's really special," he said.

At Universal City, a group of about 50 gathered to watch the final runners of the day, including the former Olympian, Johnson, and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"In light of everything that's going on, we wanted to be part of something positive," said spectator Emma Lawson, 48, of Moreno Valley.

Escort runner Karam Sethi, 13, said he and his mother had been running around their house in Riverside for a month to make sure he was ready for the event.

"All that practice made me get over the nervousness and appreciate the honor," he said.

Tuesday's torch run had started south of the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano, with 47-year-old Eileen Delaney of Fallbrook jogging the first leg. She joked about preparing for the day: "My training routine was pushing myself away from the table."

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