THE Olympic torch circus rolled into the showpiece 3G football ground at Netherdale, Galashiels, shortly before 1.30pm, writes Andrew Keddie.
For the preceding 90 minutes a cacophonous flag-waving crowd of nearly 2,000 children from schools in the town, and from Tweedbank and Hawick had been kept entertained by compere Stuart McCulloch of Radio Borders as he orchestrated some light-hearted sports events involving mascots representing each primary.
A cold wind was kept at bay by fleeting sunshine as excitement began to mount and the VIP guests, including local MP and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker, took up their positions near the podium in the centre of the pitch.
The anticipation was palpable as a beaming Chris Paterson, one of Gala’s most famous sons and Scotland’s most capped rugby player, entered the stadium, flanked by the ubiquitous grey shell-suited “security runners” – a conspicuous reminder that the eyes of the world remain on the torch’s journey, even on this, its 27th day.
After running past a guard of honour, comprising secondary-aged “sporting ambassadors”, he lapped the track to take the acclaim of the young watchers and the media pack huddled around the podium as, with patent pride, he climbed onto the gold medal platform and held the torch aloft.
The pandemonium had barely abated when Graham Garvie, convener of SBC, made his official speech of welcome, noting firstly the “fantastic news” that Borderer Kate Murray had been selected that day to compete in her second Paralympics in August as part of the GB archery team.
Councillor Garvie spoke of what the torch symbolised: the Olympic truce dating back to the 8th century BC when, during the three-month period of the games, wars were stopped, legal disputes suspended and peace declared.
“Today the Olympic spirit calls all of us to make our peace with friends, at home, at school, at work, in our communities and with other countries,” said Mr Garvie.
“It calls us to celebrate sport and to promote healthy living and friendly rivalry in the Borders in the months and years to come.
“And when this burning flame arrives in London next month, a dove of peace will be released to symbolise the Olympic ideals and the power of sport to help build a better world through competition and friendship.”
His call for three cheers for Chris Paterson was answered with a din which shook the stadium.
Visibly moved, Chris told those members of the media who had been permitted by his stoical “minders” to get within earshot, of what being chosen as a torch bear meant to him.
“It’s absolutely amazing and I’m struggling to find the words to describe it,” he told us.
“To feel I am bringing the Olympic spirit to the people of the Borders and Gala, especially children, is truly magical.
“Like everyone, since the games were awarded to London, I have been thinking about 2012 as if the day would never come. Well, the day has arrived for the Borders and I hope it will go on to inspire some of the kids here today to become Olympians of the future.”
Mr Moore said it was “a terrific day for the Borders”, adding: “This rivals the amazing night we had at Edinburgh Castle yesterday and I feel very privileged to be the Scottish Secretary and, of course, the local MP on this momentous occasion.”