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Olympic flames withstand much

December 20, 2001

Olympic flames withstand much



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / andrews@herald-mail.com

Zooming along the highway in the bed of a truck, it's ...

The Olympic flame.

Really.

To cynics who think someone kindles the torch with a cigarette lighter at the beginning of each relay leg, Jeff Black says: "Wrong."

"No flicking of a Bic," said Black, who works for Alem International, the company supervising the 2002 Winter Games torch relay.

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Winter and Summer Games torch relays begin in Athens, Greece, birthplace of the Olympics.

For the 2002 Winter Games relay, sunlight and a parabolic mirror ignited the torch - and several backups - in Athens. The main torch was flown to Atlanta, the last American city to host the Olympics.

The relay across America began Dec. 4.

The weather forecast for today's relay leg in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va., calls for brisk air and wind, but no rain or snow.

Should the weather turn foul, though, the flame and the torch are expected to endure. The flame can withstand a gust of up to 70 mph in the back of the truck, a team of General Motors engineers concluded after research.

The flame rides from city to city in a stainless steel cauldron mounted on the bed of a Chevy Avalanche.

The truck is specially fitted with a platform, fuel lines, a 5,000-watt generator, heaters to keep the propane flowing, and a hydrocarbon sensor that checks for fuel leaks.

During a laboratory test, six inches of rain fell on the cauldron and the flame still burned, according to Chevrolet.

Georgia Institute of Technology professor Sam Shelton led a team of engineers who designed the torch. It's 33 inches high, weighs 3 pounds and looks like an icicle.

A four-ounce tank of propane and propylene fuels the flame. The torch contains a small cauldron and is topped by a sturdy glass crown.

The torch and flame can withstand temperatures as low as minus-40 degrees and as high as 80 degrees, according to a Georgia Tech Olympic Web page.

Black said there are backup flames in miner's lanterns across the country, in case someone tries to "hijack" the Olympic torch.

The relay will pass through 46 states and cover 13,500 miles in 65 days.

The torch will arrive in Salt Lake City, host city for the 2002 Winter Games, in time for the opening ceremony Feb. 8.

It will stop in Hagerstown at 2:45 p.m. today. A ceremony will be held in Public Square at 3:30 p.m.

The torch will reach Edwin Miller Boulevard north of Martinsburg at 5 p.m. and its final destination of the day, the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center parking lot, at 7 p.m.

More than 50 runners, walkers and wheelchair users - including at least 20 Tri-State residents - will escort the torch through the two cities.

A relay team of seven people will send the torch off from Martinsburg's City Hall at 6:45 a.m. Friday.

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