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Torch, Olympic spirit warm city

December 27, 2001

Torch, Olympic spirit warm city



By KEVIN VERZICH / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - With the crowd chanting, "U-S-A, U-S-A," George Moore, Olympic torch in hand, rolled his wheechair the final two-tenths of a mile to light the cauldron on the main stage for the Olympic Torch Relay in Martinsburg.

Moore, of Falling Waters, W.Va., was among a dozen area residents who carried the flame Thursday during the Olympic Torch Relay's visit to Martinsburg.

Moore, the director of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, has been wheelchair-bound since a plane crash nearly took his life more than 30 years ago.

He told onlookers he had dedicated his portion of the run to the Americans who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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"The excitement here is overwhelming," Moore said. "You have to focus just to keep your humble attitude."

Area residents lined the streets of Martinsburg and filled the parking lot of the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center to catch a glimpse of the Olympic torch.

Jeff Black, advance manager for the Olympic Torch Relay, said he was impressed with the response from city residents and organizers. He said the crowd was the largest he has seen in any of the cities since the relay began.

"I was impressed with all the banners throughout Martinsburg," Black said. "This is the first city we've visited to actually have banners hanging up."

Julie Wilsterman, director of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Torch Relay for Coca-Cola North America, said she was proud to be able to put on an exciting celebration for the residents of Martinsburg.

Blaine Durst, 17, of Martinsburg said he never thought an event of this magnitude could come to his hometown. He said it was a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Josh Burnside, 24, of Martinsburg, said the event represented the spirit of competition between the countries.

"It's just not something you see every day," Burnside said. "It's unique."

Master of Ceremonies Rich Wachtel of Martinsburg opened the festivities at 5 p.m. by introducing the local band, "Idle Ride."

The band, consisting of three young men from Martinsburg and one from Buckhannon, W.Va., entertained the crowd with original rock tunes. The four members said the event was one they would remember always.

Following "Idle Ride," the Sanders Sisters took the stage with their mix of Gospel and patriotic music. Their rendition of "God Bless America" had some in the audience waving American flags and singing along.

Between acts on stage, Wachtel turned the crowd's attention to a huge movie screen, nicknamed "Big Mo," where Olympic moments and torch relay progress were displayed.

The final musical act was Shenandoah Chorus, who entertained the audience with a rendition of "God Bless America."

On the opposite side of the parking lot was the Chevrolet Interactive Trailer, where event-goers could take a virtual reality ski jump with the sights, sounds and smells of the real thing.

Also inside the trailer, people could pretend they were Olympic goalies for the U.S.A. hockey team or design their own figure skaters with the Michelle Kwan figure skating game.

Toward the end of the evening, the crowd began to "roar" as the announcer said the torch was getting close.

A dozen runners carried the torch each for two-tenths of a mile through the streets of the city before reaching the parking lot of the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center.

The torch was to leave from Martinsburg City Hall at 6:45 a.m. today.

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