An Experience: Carrying the Olympic Torch

Olympic Torch Lighting

Maddalena Cannarsa: Senior Architect, POPULOUS, Olympic Torch Bearer.

(Niece of Giancarlo Peris: Teacher, Cross Country Runner and lighter of the Olympic flame circa 1960 Summer Olympics, Rome)

“When we were told that the two Populous torchbearers would be selected among those who “have a great personal story to tell”, I knew I had a good argument working for me. To be honest, it is not really my story but my uncle’s one: Giancarlo Peris.

Not only was he a torchbearer at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, this would already have given me some chance of being selected, but he was the person who lit the Olympic flame! He was the winner of the junior national cross country race, and he represented the first generation of young Italian athletes who came along after the Second World War.

When I told him that I had been nominated he set a training schedule for me. Of course, he knew very well that the longest runs I had ever done in my life had been those to catch the bus! Luckily my section of the torch relay was just 300m!

The day started at 10am at Battersea Park when we, the torchbearers, met and were briefed by the organizers. We spent a good hour trying on the uniforms, as they were too large, too small, too short or too long. Finally, I think everyone ended up with someone else’s uniform!

Then we all jumped on the bus; the bus experience was incredible! There were people everywhere!! All waiting for the Olympic flame to pass by and waiving at the bus. They probably wouldn’t imagine how we, the torchbearers, were feeling at seeing all these hands, flags, faces and cameras pressed against the bus windows! It was so intimidating and exciting all at the same time. I had never experience such a feeling before.

When my turn came to be handed the Olympic Torch, for half a second I pictured its entire story, from the forge to my hands, like a magic wand. One torch for one torchbearer! I jumped off the bus as if I were jumping out of a plane with a parachute! Outside the waving, enthusiastic, cheering crowd! Everyone wanted to touch and hold the torch, at one point there were so many hands on the torch and it was so beautiful!  So moving!

A kid from the crowd asked a policeman why the Olympic Torch I was holding was not lit. The policeman pointed to someone approaching and I saw John arriving with the flame! John suffered from a brain cancer 10 years ago. Since then he has raised over £12,000 for Brain Research and he is one of the most positive people I have met in my life. Together with the Olympic flame, John passed on to me his energy and his enthusiasm with such strength that I literally started to jump!

I started to run holding the torch as high as I could. I had not put my hand down for a second: I wanted to make sure everyone who travelled to see it, would be able to take some souvenir photos even if they were at the back of the crowd. Then I saw Sabah, Alona, Tim, Jenni, Simon, Lou! A Populous delegation holding a “GO MADDA” banner! I was so amazed to see them that I thought they were standing at my ending point. So I just stopped running and walked straight towards them. A policemen put me right back on track as the next torchbearer was waiting for me a few meters away! It was the end of my running leg, not the end of this incredible moment!

Once back on the bus, the greetings from the torchbearers that had already run, was another emotional exchange!  And I joined them for the next couple of hours, cheering along with them all those who, like us, had their own moment to shine. It was an amazing group, everyone with incredible and inspiring stories.

I would have never imagined that one day I would have carried the Olympic Flame in London and it was through working for Populous that I was given this incredible opportunity. Thank you!”


  1. I was lucky enough to be psenert on this special day! I loved every moment of it! I am so proud and happy for Stephanie and for everyone who shared this special time with her and her family! When the day was over I found myself wishing that we could do it all over again! I didn’t want it to end! Johanne your pictures will help me to keep the experience alive forever! Dear Stephanie .thank you for sharing your special adventure with me! I love your beautiful smile and embracing spirit!

    September 9, 2012

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