Fear burns bright at Olympic torch test Flaming desire not to drop 3 1/2 -pound symbol inspires practice for Wednesday

June 17, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

There wasn't much of a to-do when some Marylanders staged a practice relay, carrying a replica of the Olympic torch, in the Inner Harbor yesterday, running from Constellation Dock to the Light Street pavilion and back again.

Some people took pictures, applauded and waved. Then they realized the torch wasn't lighted and suddenly lost interest.

But the runners didn't seem to mind the lack of attention. They were more concerned about not botching things when the torch comes to Maryland on Wednesday.

"The actual run won't be a problem. I just hope I don't drop the torch," said Troy Cooper, a 33-year-old Silver Spring resident who has run three Boston Marathons.

Cooper will be one of 106 runners in Maryland -- the largest number of torch bearers outside of Georgia -- who will take turns carrying the torch through the state Wednesday and Thursday as it nears the end of its 15,000-mile journey from Los Angeles to the July 19 opening of the Summer Games in Atlanta.

Only nine of this state's runners showed up for the practice run yesterday -- their first chance to handle the 3 1/2 -pound torch.

They were eager to familiarize themselves with the torch.

"I wanted the chance to feel the torch some," said Melanie Nolet, 25, of Perry Hall. "People think it'll be heavy to carry. But I'm ready for it," she said.

"It's pretty heavy," said Jacob Patterson, 13, of Columbia.

He said he'll get used to it. "I'm just excited about being part of history," added Jacob, who has been getting in shape by running on a high school track.

The torch is 32 inches long -- add another 12 inches once the propane fuel is lighted -- and is made of 22 aluminum "reeds" that represent each quadrennial modern Olympiad, beginning in 1908. Near the top of the torch is a band of gold-plated brass that has "Atlanta" etched on it. A pecan hardwood center serves as a handle for runners.

During the relay, each torch bearer has his or her own torch, which is lighted by the previous runner. More than 10,000 torches have been produced and bearers can keep theirs -- at a cost of $275, said Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for the United Way of Central Maryland, an organizer of the Maryland relay.

The torch bearers will walk, run or use wheelchairs for up to a kilometer each from the Pennsylvania border to Rash Field in Baltimore on Wednesday. The relay will resume Thursday at Pratt and Light streets and head to Annapolis, Prince George's County and the District of Columbia.

Elizabeth Rodriguez, 25, said she carries a 3 1/2 -pound weight while she practices running and race-walking daily.

"I wanted to prepare myself. Now I have to get used to carrying the torch in one hand the whole way," said the Crofton resident. "It's going to be awkward."

All of the concern over the torch's weight and potential mishaps amused David Kacala, 48, of Baltimore.

"I'm one of the lucky ones. I don't have to run at all," said Kacala, who is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. The torch will be strapped to his battery-operated chair.

"I'll just make sure I charge my batteries the night before," Kacala said.

Pub Date: 6/17/96

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