HEAVY rainfall failed to extinguish the spirit of the Olympic flame in Portadown on Tuesday as thousands lined the streets to cheer the relay runners.
Members of the public started to take up key vantage points well in advance of the scheduled 4.39 arrival time on the Armagh Road.
Between 5 and 10,000 people ignored the weather conditions to back the seven designated athletes as they travelled along the Armagh Road, down Church Street, Market Street, High Street, Castle Street, Bridge Street and the Carrickblacker Road before a convoy stop on the Gilford Road.
Day 18 of the Olympic Torch relay tour around the United Kingdom attracted miserable weather but the mood remained upbeat as young and old turned out in force to boost Helen Quinn (Omagh), Ewan McAteer (Antrim), Paul Morris (Toomebridge), Philip Slater (Lisburn), Sarah Moore (Omagh), Alison Slater (Lisburn) and Alex Williams (Ballywalter).
For some, this week’s sight of the Olympic Flame racing around Portadown served as a prelude of what to expect at the London spectacle.
“I managed to get tickets for athletics and diving so plan on spending 11 days in England,” said Richhill’s Gladys Wilson. “I will be staying with family in Guildford and head off on July 30.
“I am certainly looking forward to the whole experience.”
Aaron Willis has a four-day holiday booked with three friends – the highlight of which is a seat at Wembley Stadium for the quarter-finals of the football section.
“It is the only sport I applied for but we also plan to take a look around and soak up as much of the occasion as possible,” he said. “We have accommodation in central London and it should be amazing.”
Watching the torch relay on Tuesday with Aaron was Adam Pearson – a familiar name to fans of Laurelvale’s football and cricket teams. He has a visit planned to Australia to see Wayne Pearson, a former Laurelvale Cricket Club captain.
“I am actually heading over to Perth around the time of the Games but will arrive in time to catch the last few days,” he said. “I know Wayne certainly has plans for us to sit down and follow the coverage.
“This torch relay is a brilliant occasion and great to see so many people turn out in the rain to cheer on the runners.”
David Blevins and his daughter, Victoria, headed to Portadown town centre from the Derrylee area.
“We wanted to come into town and arrived early enough to get a good spot to see the flame,” he said. “It is a real once-in-a-lifetime experience which we didn’t want to miss.”
The sight of the relay runners carrying the flame proved an inspirational image.
“I run for Drumcree College and would love to be one of the torch-bearers,” said Conor Devlin, who came from Maghery with his mother, Carol.
Another competitor in the crowd was Adam Magowan, who recently represented Portadown College at the Irish Schools’ Championships.
“I finished fourth in the 800 metres,” said Adam. “I cannot wait for the Olympic Games to start and plan on watching as much as possible on television.”
Some young spectators were simply happy to be part of the day.
“We have spent the afternoon in Portadown and had a great time despite the rain,” said Hollie Simpson, who backed the torch relay with her two friends, Emma Bramble and Rachel Kelly.
Kyle McMurray, Jamie Black, Darragh Gray and Daniel Robb – four promising young footballers – were delighted with the school holiday and looking forward to a big summer of sport.
“The football European Championships start this week,” said 11-year-old Arsenal fan, Jamie. “But it will also be great to see the Olympic Games.”
Robert Cust took his two granddaughters into Portadown to watch the flame travel towards Banbridge – with six-year-old Lauren Blades and eight-year-old Chloe Cust enjoying the day but keen to round off the fun by finding some of the celebratory balloons available as part of the entertainment.
In total, the torch relay spent less than one hour in Portadown but the experience of the town’s part in Olympic Games history should live long in the memory for those who braved the elements.