Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Owning the Torch

Today Alex bought his torch. After he runs with it on November 22nd, the fuel canister will be removed from it and he will be able to keep it.

He also ordered some other Torchbearer merchandise: pins, a water bottle, a t-shirt and the book "A Path of Northern Lights: The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays" (Collector's Edition).

Alex isn't a big spender, as a rule, but he proved to be the exception to that rule today!


The 2010 Olympic torch is shown in this handout photo.
VANOC Handout/The Canadian Press

Secretive building of the Olympic torch

The Globe and Mail
By Les Perreaux, The Globe and Mail Posted Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tucked in a small room off a cavernous factory packed with cockpit parts for Challenger business jets, four Bombardier workers are on the smallest assembly line around.

Senior employees who usually build aircraft and trains are producing a shiny new Olympic torch every two minutes from their kitchen-table-sized rotating production line.

Just before Thursday's lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece, the workers are about halfway through the 12,000 torches they will produce by December.

At the start of the process, Gaetan Michaud removes parts from boxes, including the double-burner butane blowtorch that will keep the flame lit for up to 12 minutes through cold, snow, rain or wind during each leg of the 45,000-kilometre marathon.

"Everyone grows up watching the Olympics, so it's a pretty special feeling to be part of it," said Mr. Michaud, a welder for 12 years at Bombardier.

"It's an opportunity that doesn't come around very often."

Diane Bissonnette assembles the internal workings of the torch and signs her name to a small sticker. Ms. Bissonnette, who usually helps put together composite material for aircraft, says each screw gets special attention.

She put in her name to work on the torch and was thrilled to be selected for the assignment she described as prestigious.

"Each torch is like a medal for me," said Ms. Bissonnette, who has worked at Bombardier for 30 years. "It's an incredibly special feeling being part of this."

The Olympic torch production line is a tiny sideshow off a huge production floor that builds parts for aircraft out of aluminum and composite material - the same used in the shell of the sleek white-and-metallic torch.

Daniel Deschênes, the lead designer on the project, stands a few feet away from the production line holding the finished product. It weighs about 1.5 kilograms, about the same as the standard bottle of champagne Mr. Deschênes will undoubtedly crack after production is complete.

With organizers leery of protest and possible sabotage, the secretive project to build the torch takes place in a location that cannot be disclosed. Reporters on a tour yesterday had to sign agreements not to reveal the location of the non-descript factory.

Bombardier will not reveal the project cost, saying the torches are part of a larger sponsorship agreement with Vancouver Olympics. Relay participants have the exclusive option to purchase their torch for $349 plus tax, a price tag that could raise $4 million for the Olympics. Mr. Deschênes' last gig was designing cars for the Toronto subway. "They're all our babies, but this has a visibility that is quite a bit bigger. We'll never forget it," he said.

Stringent performance requirements require the torch stay lit between -40 or +40 degrees and in winds up to 60 kilometres per hour. If an unlucky relayer happens to drop a torch, it must stay lit.

"Usually in our work, we're trying to avoid fire at all costs," said Mr. Deschênes.

Jean-François Clusiau, the torch assembly manager and an expert in lean manufacturing processes, buzzes around the white table. He says he was thrilled by the challenge of putting together 12,000 torches, but admits he has had one Olympic disappointment. He put in his name to be one of the Olympic torch bearers in Quebec, but didn't make the cut. "I'll watch others carry it, and proudly," Mr. Clusiau said.

Mr. Michaud is both the start and the end of the assembly line. Eight minutes after he unpacked the torch's components, he gives it a final look before carefully packing it away.

The official torch lighting takes place tomorrow in Greece. The 106-day Canadian relay launches Oct. 30 in Victoria.


Anonymous said...

How very cool!!!

Clay said...

How much did they charge for the torch? Of course, it's the prime thing to have, but I've heard that they cost quite a bit.

jypsy said...

I've updated this post with a CTV story that answers your question (and shows 5 great angles of the Torch). You heard right..... $349. + tax.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Ouch - but I am glad he got to buy the torch - I was young and watching the TV in Canada when I saw the olympics and decided then that I would BE in the olympics, not a gold medalist but I would participate (never happened but I still want it!). I think the olympics does bring out the best in those who dream pure dreams, and I am glad that Alex got to run and now has a torch to know he is always connected to the Olympics.

Cheri Gallant said...

Alex I am so excited that you will be carrying the torch! This year it means so much more to us since we will be attending the Olympics in Vancouver.

Jypsy how could he not buy the torch and everything else, it will be a once in a lifetime! If there is anything we can bring back for either of you when we go to the Olympics, just drop me a line.

We already have our red mittens to cheer on all the runners!