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London Olympics: Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen carries Olympic torch [video]

July 26, 2012|By Marcia Adair
  • Musical conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen does his part getting the Olympic torch to London's Olympic Stadium in time for Friday's opening ceremony.
Musical conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen does his part getting the Olympic… (Benjamin Ealovega )

LONDON — On its 69th and penultimate day of touring, the Olympic torch has been carried nearly 8,000 miles by sports heroes, pop stars, actors and thousands of everyday people.  On Thursday, it was the turn of Esa-Pekka Salonen, principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

A white-clad Salonen carried the torch for the 330 yards along Cheapside from Gresham Street to Wood Street in the morning hours.

The official outfit may have been logo-appropriate, but the tailoring left something to be desired.

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"I do run regularly, so it was not a running challenge in that way," Salonen said afterward. "My whole worry was whether my pants would stay up, because the outfit was kind of one-size-fits-all. That certainly would have made things exciting!"

His nomination was something of an accident.  "I was asked," he said, "to nominate a person from my field [as part of the Samsung "Going the Extra Mile" torchbearer campaign] and I chose Rachel Hunter, a music teacher from south London who runs a very high-quality music program despite lack of resources.

"What I hadn't realized was that someone had nominated me."

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Just minutes earlier at 8:25 a.m., as a steady stream of city workers made their way out of St Paul's tube station, a flatbed truck had pulled up and men in yellow high-visibility jackets lined the intersection of St Martins-le-Grand and Cheapside with metal crowd-control barriers.

In due course, a crowd came. On the west side were tourists. On the east were hundreds of young men in the blue-shirt, gray-trousers uniform of city workers in summer, with shop girls and the administration ladies from the nearby banks, shops and lawyers' offices filling out the scene.

As the St. Mary-le-Bow Church put Bow's Bells through their paces, bespandexed volunteers handed out inflatable spirit sticks and various other instruments of enthusiasm in an effort to work the crowd into a frenzy.

Police motorcycles and an open-topped Samsung bus rounded the corner and then, Salonen came running with the torch held high. 

The crowd cheered as he passed, not because of what Salonen represented or the pleasure of making noise, but, it seemed to him rather sweetly, out of genuine excitement. 

"It says something about the basic joy of the Olympic spirit," said Salonen. "The nice and rather overwhelming thing was to see all those people in the street and the general happiness, and I thought that was something you don't see that often these days. For all of us in our group, that was the most powerful experience of this thing."

The torch next was heading south across the river and then west to Hyde Park, where a party will be held in its honor before it travels up the Thames to the Olympic Stadium for Friday's opening ceremony.

As the torch moved on the crowd dispersed; the barriers were back on the truck and the taxis and delivery vans prowled the city again. It was almost as if nothing had happened. Fortunately, our 21st century archive of texts, Facebook posts and dinner-table stories will tell otherwise.

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