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Olympic torch due in Tri-State area Thursday

December 20, 2001

Olympic torch due in Tri-State area Thursday



By ANDREW SCHOTZ
andrews@herald-mail.com


Ricky Rudd will rely on his feet, not his race car, when he carries the Olympic torch through Martinsburg, W.Va., Thursday.

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Rudd, a NASCAR driver, will be among more than 50 people toting the torch in Hagerstown and Martinsburg. About 20 of them are Tri-State area residents.

The torch will pass through the two cities on its 65-day, 13,500-mile trip.

It left Atlanta, the U.S. city that last hosted the Olympics, on Dec. 4. It will arrive on Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City, in time for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

The torch is scheduled to arrive in Hagerstown Thursday at about 3:30 p.m. It will make a brief stop in Public Square.

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Hagerstown is considered a "break site," or stopover between major torch run cities.

The torch will reach Edwin Miller Boulevard, north of Martinsburg, at 5 p.m. It will travel about 10 miles in and around the city before reaching the parking lot of the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center at 315 W. Stephen St. at 7 p.m.

"We set up the torch (run) to try to touch every part of Martinsburg," said City Manager Mark Baldwin.

Celebrations in both cities will start before the torch arrives.

At 6:45 a.m. Friday at Martinsburg City Hall, the torch will begin its trip to Leesburg, Va.

Baldwin has been keeping an eye on the weather and is hoping for clear skies.

The outlook is good.

Thursday is supposed to be partly cloudy and windy, with highs in the mid-40s, said Trina Heiser, a technician for the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

Martinsburg has planned the torch relay for about a year.

The nationwide relay, which covers parts of 46 states, took about three years to coordinate, said Jeff Black of Alem International, the company that organized the relay.

"It's the logistical Super Bowl," said Black, an advance manager who has supervised torch celebrations and runs in Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee.

Black said Martinsburg, with its prominent banners, has been "fantastic" in promoting its leg of the relay. Homes draped in festive holiday lights add to the ambiance, he said.

About 11,500 people will carry the Olympic torch as it moves across America.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee and Olympic sponsors Coca-Cola and Chevrolet chose most of the torch bearers from nominations they received.

Burke Olsen of Coltrin & Associates, a public relations firm working for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said a few bearers were selected in other ways.

One is Vickie Smith of Bedington, W.Va., who was nominated by the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. She will carry the torch in Martinsburg.

Another is 12-year-old Alexandra Gekas of Adamstown, Md. She wrote a letter to Memphis, Tenn., firefighter Miller Stroud, praising him for his relief efforts at the site of the World Trade Center disaster in New York City. Alexandra will carry the torch in Hagerstown.

Olsen said the torch relay will include, in various cities, 100 people affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rudd, a member of Coca-Cola's racing team, is scheduled to take the torch from bearer Betsy Howell of Harrisburg, Pa., at 5:29 p.m.

He will carry the torch on Moler Avenue, starting at Central Avenue. Support runner Daniel Comer will join him at 5:32 p.m.

At the Second Baptist Church sign, Rudd will hand the torch to bearer Joan Laboiteaux of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

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