Olympic Flame
Comment - A memorable day for many reasons

By Matthew Bates 05/07 Updated: 05/07 09:40

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Buy photos » Our man Matt gets into the groove. (s)

OUR reporter Matthew Bates, who gained exclusive access to one of the Torch procession buses as it mades its way through Warwick and Kenilworth and on to Coventry, reflects on a memorable day.

IN MANY ways, going out and seeing the Olympic Torch in Coventry and Warwickhire wasn't actually about going out and seeing the Olympic Torch. Blink as one of the more enthusiastic torchbearers went by and you missed it. Literally.

In fact, what the relay was really about for the thousands who experienced it was that amazing atmosphere and community spirit which is rarely felt in Britain today.

When else do you start up a chat with a stranger in a busy street? Or see policemen hi-fiving kids instead of giving them a telling-off?

For some of the younger ones, getting a handshake with a copper on a motorbike was clearly more enjoyable than seeing the flame itself fly past.

The sights and sounds of Sunday afternoon will stay with those who felt it for a long time. So imagine how it feels to experience the moment for 12 hours a day, 70 days straight.

That's what the 'activation convoy' will go through as the torch makes its way round the UK in the build up to London 2012.

It sees a group of sponsor vehicles shout about their brand six minutes up the road from the flame.

But it also sees circus tricks performed and free flags and drink handed out to locals in a bid to whip them up into an Olympic frenzy and give them a taste of what's to come.

I met up with the team from sponsor Lloyds TSB at Warwick Castle, who granted me exclusive access to the procession from the landmark and into Coventry.

And after being handed what seemed an endless supply of green ribbons, I boarded the bright green Lloyds bus in a bright green jacket. My face probably looked a bit green too after boss Ioan Jones pointed to the roof and said 'that's where you go to dance to the crowds'.

Luckily it was an invitation rather than a threat, and I politely declined the offer.

But I soon settled down after seeing the crowds in Warwick High Street and by St Nicholas Park, where the pavements and road were packed to the rafters.

The view up the hill up to Castle Bridge put a shiver down my spine as I looked out of the front of our truck. The number of people who had turned up to see the procession was staggering, and the support remained down Myton Road and past Leamington Train Station towards the town centre.

The Parade was a particular highlight, with our truck struggling to get up the road because of the sheer number of people. I even took up that invitation to jump on the roof and ending up waving almost as enthusiastically as Lloyds' entertainer Hans, who lapped up the attention.

I dread to think how hectic and claustrophobic it was stuck in the middle of the crowd and some locals even took refuge on roof tops and above shop fronts.

As we moved onto Kenilworth there was a real buzz on our truck and it seemed even the team - who had experienced the same feeling for the last 43 days - were taken back by the support shown.

Hans even estimated a figure of 80,000 to 100,000 in Warwick and Leamington, although that number was probably even more enthusiastic than his ribbon waving.

Other members of the team included Matty, who rode along side us on a five-inch bike and Caroline, who kept the crowd on its toes with her quick quips.

Techie Rob was even in charge of a Google street view-type camera which took pictures of the crowds as the truck went past. His laptop collects over a terabyte of data every day with locals invited to 'tag' themselves in the photo on Lloyds' facebook page.

During a quick break I sat down to chat with 50-year-old boss Ioan, who firmly believes the torch can inspire a generation.

"I know it does because I've seen it with my own eyes," he tells me. "I've been to the Sydney and Athens Games, and the Asian Games and I've got the stories to prove it.

"The support we've been shown is incredible - we'll be driving 30mph to the next town and still people will come out from their homes to see us."

Olympics boss Seb Coe was at Warwick Castle to see the Torch come to the town.

Wayne Martin met him and snapped a picture with the former gold medallist.

He said: "He was great, very chatty and happy to talk."

The fitness-mad 48-year-old, who hails from Leamington, added "true legend" Coe had shown a keen interest in his fitness and running.

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Buy photos» Leamington resident Wayne Martin and his daughter Ellie meet Olympics boss Seb Coe at Warwick Castle as the Torch passed through. (s)

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