My part in the Olympic torch relay - Korea Times
The Korea Times


ⓕ font-size

  • -2
  • -1
  • 0
  • +1
  • +2

My part in the Olympic torch relay

Jon Dunbar, left, carries the Olympics torch with high school student Lim Su-min through a mountain trail in Seoul, Sunday. / Korea Times photo by Seo Jae-hoon
Jon Dunbar, left, carries the Olympics torch with high school student Lim Su-min through a mountain trail in Seoul, Sunday. / Korea Times photo by Seo Jae-hoon

By Jon Dunbar

So a lot of people are surprised I carried the Olympic torch. If you know me, I don't seem athletic, always weighed down by camera gear. But athletic achievement isn't what brought me up to a small hill called Naksan in Seoul for the Olympic Torch Relay.

Way back in 2015, I entered the "Open Torch Relay" online contest, which solicited ideas for the torch relay. My idea was ambitious and impractical, titled "internet of torch": I proposed outfitting the Olympic torch with a short-range Bluetooth transmitter, so it could send a signal to nearby mobile devices with a corresponding app that could receive the signal embodied as a sort of digital flame.

It was never going to happen, but in an online vote I won something like second place.

I was awarded for it at the 500-day countdown ceremony on Sept. 27, 2016. It was a rainy day and they whipped through our awards before the main crowd showed up. They made me sit temporarily in the front row in a seat marked for Rep. Na Kyung-won.

Later, figure skater Kim Yu-na entered to no fanfare, other than whispers through the audience of "Kim Yuna-da!" She sat alone in the cold for about ten minutes before all the other VIPs poured in. Then there was a tremendous fireworks display followed by a performance of GFriend.

I got a bunch of money from the night, and then they asked me: "Do you want tickets to Olympic events, or to run in the Torch Relay?"

I'll be honest, the idea of carrying the Olympic torch mortified me, but even I could see it was the only choice.

Late last year, they asked me where I wanted to carry the torch. Such a difficult question. Ultimately I picked Seoul, but I told them I would like to run in Suwon where I spent my first year in Korea, or Andong which is Korea's spiritual heart, or the DMZ where the Korean War memorial to Canadian veterans stands.

For the next several months I visited the torchbearer part of the website every few days, waiting for my route to be announced. Finally, on Dec. 31, it announced my time and place: Jan. 14 and up on Naksan Park.

Remarkably, I already had plans to go up there that same night I got this announcement, for the New Year's countdown. I met up with my friends in Hyehwa-dong and we trudged uphill, going through exactly the same area I would carry the Olympic torch a couple weeks later. The coincidence was too huge to overlook: I rang in the New Year standing quite near where I was due to carry the Olympic torch.

It is an unbeatable view of the city up there, looking directly down on Hyehwa as well as Dongdaemun Market area and Changshin-dong. My friend Bomi pointed out her favorite view over the whole city, seen from here. Ironically we were warned about fire after a couple of my friends set off sparklers.

Jan. 14 came, and I went to the collection point near Dongguk University. They briefed us on how to do it, gave us uniforms and drove us up Naksan in a van led by police escort.

There were four of us, all winners of the same contest. It turned out I was paired with Lim Soo-min, a high school student whose proposal for the torch relay route landed him a spot here. We would run a 100-meter course together, with each of us holding the torch for 50 meters.

There were only four of us, and we were doing what was called a "spider relay" which is sort of an out-of-the-way location.

This whole time, I didn't know whether I'd be running downhill or uphill. But when we did a walkthrough, the guys in charge changed their minds and made the course completely different.

When the event began, Soo-min and I stood unsupervised along the city wall, in front of about 100 people, waiting for the flame. I am basically an introvert, but when the time came, I was ready. We had the "torch kiss" and then we headed downhill, along the city wall.

It was hardly an athletic event, more of an extended photo op. At one point, we stopped to pose for the cameras. They wanted us to slowly come toward them, so I mimed running in slow motion. This didn't amuse them, and I was asked to redo it.

We came to a plaza where the flame was transferred to a lantern to be brought to the next leg of the relay. We loaded back into the van to go back to the collection point, where we had the opportunity to purchase the Olympic torch.

After that, I hurried back to Hyehwa to catch up with my friends and carry the torch around the neighborhood and make people think the torch relay was coming. They had removed the gas canister but it was still a little too fun.

Jon Dunbar is a copy editor for The Korea Times.

Top 10 Stories

go top LETTER

The Korea Times

Sign up for eNewsletter