Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Backup runner gets chance to shine

Covington sends Olympic flame forward

By Stephenie Steitzer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Brian Walker, a support runner for the Olympic torch bearers, got some surprising news early Tuesday morning: The first runner of the day didn't show up, so Mr. Walker had to take the lead.

        So 10 minutes before the day's run was to begin, the 18-year-old Walnut Hills resident put on a white wind suit, grabbed his torch and got into place in front of a Covington hotel.

        “He was shocked,” said Mr. Walker's mother, Bobbie.

        As part of the 65-day journey to Salt Lake City, the flame passed through parts of downtown Cincinnati on Monday night. It continued Tuesday in Covington.

        A few dozen people gathered at the hotel to cheer on Mr. Walker and the cavalcade of Olympic sponsor vehicles that surrounded him. Shortly after 7 a.m., a dark sky still above, Mr. Walker's torch was lit and he began his run to Main and Pike streets.

        Mr. Walker, nominated by his sister because of his Eagle Scout achievement, was supposed to be a “support runner.” That meant he was to be there as a backup in case the main runner couldn't complete his or her portion of the run.

        An Olympic spokesman said he was not sure why the scheduled runner, Ricardo Williams Jr. — a 1990 Olympic silver medalist in boxing who went to Taft High School — did not start the run.

        Mr. Williams, his co-manager and father Ricardo Williams Sr. and co-manager Buddy LaRosa could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Mr. Walker's family cheered him on and snapped pictures as he began his leg — first walking and then picking up the pace to a quick jog.

        After he handed over the torch, other runners proceeded through Covington and over the Roebling Suspension Bridge to Fountain Square. The flame then snaked its way through Cincinnati until about 11 a.m. before moving east and out of town along the Ohio River.

        The route now goes across Pennsylvania to the East Coast before looping around, following the Great Lakes and returning to northern Ohio on Jan.1.

        From Cleveland, the flame goes to Columbus and Dayton, then moves into Indiana on a path that leads to Salt Lake in February.

        A crowd cheers along Madison Avenue in Covington early Tuesday morning as the Olympic torch runner approaches. The flame toured Covington before being carried back across the river into Cincinnati.
        Brian Walker, 18, of Westwood, who wasn't even scheduled to run, began the torch run Tuesday morning on RiverCenter Boulevard in Covington.


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