Running the relay

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Lisa Perricone called home from Montana Wednesday to find out that she would play a small part in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

Perricone's Alpine skiing talent didn't land her a place in the Olympics but her inspiration, dedication and athleticism finds her running in the Olympic Torch Relay as a support runner.

Perricone will run with five different torchbearers, covering about 1 mile Friday in Vail following the Olympic Torch Relay theme, "Light the Fire Within."

"It's one step closer to the Olympics," Perricone said of her dream to some day compete in the Olympics. "It's a cool opportunity and it will be fun."

Olympic Torch Relay advance manager Jeff Black said during early morning meetings before the day's 12-hour relay, supervisors encourage those chosen as torchbearers to hand off the flame to the support runners for a brief moment of glory.

Rick DeVos, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club executive director; Cyndy Simms, Steamboat Springs School District superintendent; and David Schmid, Steamboat Springs High School principal, collectively nominated Perricone last fall as Cook Chevrolet's sponsored runner.

"She's a really cool kid. We were psyched to see her get picked," DeVos said. "She's one of our favorite athletes. She's one of those kids you hope your kids will grow up like."

Although Steamboat Springs will not see official Olympic Torch Relay support runners or torchbearers through its streets, high school junior Perricone will represent Steamboat with her run in Vail Friday night.

She will leave a ski race in Aspen, run in Vail and head back to Aspen for the next day's race.

"I wouldn't miss a race to run because racing is what I do," Perricone said.

Today, the Olympic flame is in Yellowstone National Park and Bozeman, Mont. By Friday, Perricone will run down Village Center Road at 5:54 p.m. in Vail.

And, at the same time Perricone runs through Vail, Steamboat Springs will host its own torch run from Mount Werner to the Courthouse lawn where big screen televisions, bands and speeches from past and present Olympians will celebrate the games.

In Colorado, torchbearers begin a four-day stint beginning in Fort Collins and ending in Grand Junction, bypassing cities such as Vail, Aspen and Colorado Springs.

DeVos said he doesn't understand why Steamboat was not chosen to accommodate Olympic torchbearers; however, he's proud to announce Steamboat will provide its own Olympic celebration.

"We're disappointed that they did not consider us when they designed the course run when we've produced 75 (Olympic appearances) soon to be 90," DeVos said of Steamboat. "We're still our own special town and I'm excited Steamboat will celebrate its excellence among its own people."

Black, also a close friend of DeVos, said life became too busy to organize an event in Steamboat. The decisions regarding the trek of the torchbearers were made through persistent lobbyists.

"We chose most of the major cities and tried to hit as many people in the U.S. to let them see this thing," Black said.

Black said no one from Steamboat contacted the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and with only 65 days to hit 46 states, someone was going to be missed. Steamboat was just too late.

"If last summer or even winter we would have gotten all these Olympians in Steamboat together, we could have gotten it (in Steamboat)," Black said. "I guess we were all too busy enjoying the powder."

The Olympic Torch Relay for this year's games began Dec. 4 in Atlanta, Ga., and will end at the opening ceremony Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City. Torchbearers from Steamboat Springs include Sue Lewis and Emily Conjura.

For each town the Olympic Torch Relay passes through, more and more people gather to cheer on the participants, Black said.

"The crowds keep them awake. It's definitely an adrenaline-pumping event," Black said, adding many times the runners do not get to bed until 11 p.m. or midnight and are up to run at 5 a.m. "This is the Olympics' way of bringing it to the people since many cannot be there."

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee advertised for about two weeks to recruit torchbearers and support runners in this year's Olympic Torch Relay. Nominators had to submit an essay on why they thought their nominee would be a perfect fit for the relay.

Simms said the collaborative letter from her, Schmid and DeVos listed Perricone's various athletic accomplishments and the qualities that make her a perfect fit as a support runner.

Schmid said Perricone is the ultimate in skiing and school what better choice?

"She excels in what she does for Winter Sports Club and school," Schmid said. "I can never keep track of where she is. It's amazing she's done so much and still keeps up with her school work."

According to the Olympic Web site, Coca-Cola and Chevrolet, the two Olympic Torch Relay sponsors, received 210,000 nominations conducted by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

The chain of 11,500 torchbearers covers 13,500 miles and 46 states (excluding Hawaii, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota). The torch will travel 208 miles a day.

Torchbearers will carry the Olympic flame for 0.2 miles each and will be accompanied by one of 4,300 support runners. The flame is the only thing that is passed along, not the torch.

Black said each torchbearer has the opportunity to buy the torch they carry for $335. The company constructing the torches made about 13,000.

"Only two torchbearers have broken their torches. That's amazing since it's been in the hands of about 10,000 people," Black said.

Coca-Cola's Web site states that the flame is ignited by the sun's rays in Olympia, Greece, and travels through car, boat, train, plane, dogsled, skier, horse-drawn sleigh, snowmobile, ice skaters and covered wagon to its resting place in Salt Lake City 2002.

Due to weather in Greece this year, the Olympic flame was not lit from the sun's rays but a back-up method.

If the torch accidentally is extinguished, the accompanying backup flames held in pewter oil lanterns from Greece are used.

The Olympic flame became a tradition of the modern Olympic games at the 1928 Amsterdam games.

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