A FORMER Jedburgh schoolboy joined footballing superstar David Beckham and London 2012 boss, Seb Coe, for the handing over of the Olympic flame in Athens last week, writes Mark Entwistle.
Dennis Coles, 17, attends Doon Academy in East Ayrshire, but previously was a pupil at Howdenburn Primary in Jedburgh and the town’s secondary school.
Rugby player Dennis was at the centre of the world’s attention as he rubbed shoulders with Beckham and Coe, London mayor Boris Johnson and the British Olympic Association president, the Princess Royal, for the flame ceremony in the Greek capital’s Panathenaic Stadium last Thursday.
Representing Scotland, Dennis was one of five young people from the home countries invited to take part in the ceremony by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and the British Council in recognition of their commitment to sport and their role in promoting the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect within their school or college.
Dennis and the other youngsters were selected from schools and colleges involved in the London 2012 Get Set education programme and school-linking programmes run by the British Council.
As well as visiting schools in Athens that they are linked with, the young people had a starring role in the handover ceremony.
The flame tradition originated with the ancient Olympic Games in Greece. The flame for the London games was ignited when an actress dressed as an ancient priestess caught the sun’s rays in a parabolic mirror in Olympia, Greece.
After travelling around Greece the flame was transferred to an oil-powered enclosed lamp and handed over to the UK official party in Thursday’s handover ceremony.
Doon Academy’s head of PE, Kevan McCrorie, said Dennis was a model pupil who exemplified the values of the Olympic Games and Doon Academy.
Dennis will now be guest of honour presenting the medals at the school’s own Olympic-themed festival on World Sport Day, June 25.
Lord Coe, chair of LOCOG, commented: ‘We wanted to involve young people from across the UK in bringing home the Olympic flame. Their stories of personal achievement and contribution to sport echo the 8,000 inspiring torchbearer stories that will be shared from this weekend and over the next 10 weeks in the build up to the start of the Games.”
Speaking to TheSouthern from his home in Dalmellington, Dennis said the trip to Athens had been the experience of a lifetime.
“It was absolutely amazing. We flew to Athens on the Firefly, which was the name of the special jet also used to transport the flame back to the UK,” Dennis explained.
“We were on board with the likes of David Beckham, Seb Coe and Princess Anne and the other VIPs.”
The five British youngsters had an important role to play in the handover ceremony, which was conducted in front of a packed sports stadium and under the lenses of the world’s media.
“We were walking with some Greek children, carrying olive branches to symbolise peace and friendship, and we basically escorted Princess Anne, David Beckham and Lord Coe from the stadium once they had received the Olympic flame.”
Dennis says he got the chance to chat to the celebrities and VIPs. “Lord Coe was speaking to us all the time and Princess Anne also asked us a few questions.”
The excitement did not end there as football legend Beckham invited the youngsters to meet him afterwards for photographs.
“David Beckham was really friendly and very generous with his time – asking us to his hotel, chatting with us and getting his photograph taken.”
Once the Firefly arrived back in London, Dennis and his fellow pupils provided a guard of honour down the aircraft steps for the official party.
“It was an incredible thing to be part of,” Dennis said, “something I will never forget.”
The Olympic flame is now touring the UK and will light the cauldron signifying the start of the Olympic Games on the evening of July 27, 2012.
z Tennis player Lucy Porteous, 23, from Stichill, will be one of four Scottish athletes who will take part in the torch relay when it reaches Wales on Sunday.