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Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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August 6, 2008 1:02 AM

Olympics: Torched by the Flame.

Posted by Rod Mar

The Olympic Torch relay is usually a celebration of the human spirit and a positive precursor to the start of the Games.

This year's relay has been different -- marked by protests and tension, re-routes and controversy.

We went out this morning to photograph the torch as it passed through Dongcheng, a district not far from the city center.

Beijing is alive with Olympic fever as the opening ceremony is only days away.

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f8.0)

Citizens who have only been told about the excitement the Games bring are getting their first taste as the torch traveled through Beijing.

Everyone in the city was well aware that Chinese heroes such as Yao Ming would be carrying the torch today.

If the route passed anywhere near their neighborhood, they were determined to see it.

We knew we were in for a spectacle the moment we emerged from the subway tunnel to a sea of people and the nervous buzz that only a big street event can bring. Our journalistic "Spidey-sense" kicked in and we waded into the fray, keeping a close eye on each other and arranging a meeting place in case we got separated.

The torch was close by, and the crowds were pressed tightly to the road as security forces did their best to keep people from flooding the streets and obstructing the torch. Crowds surged, the security forces linked arms to keep them back. Elderly women and small children, thinking they would catch a glimpse of Yao Ming or gold-medal hurdler Liu Xiang, were being pressed too tightly by the throng:

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f7.1)

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 400, 1/1250th sec.,f4.0)

Young men fought their way through to the front for a look:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 220mm, ISO 200, 1/500th sec.,f8.0)

Safely above the fray, this woman and these children got a birds-eye view:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 26mm, ISO 200, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

A roar came from the crowd as the first vehicles of the convoy emerged from beneath an overpass and into sight. What the anxious crowd was treated to was basically a truck turned into a parade float -- and an advertisement for Coca-Cola.

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f4.5)

They cheered lustily anyway, as faux-cheerleaders amped up the crowd. Samsung's truck followed, trailed by one from Lenovo.

To my twisted American mind, it seemed like that scene from the movie "A Christmas Story" where little Ralphie is introduced to consumerism when the secret code from the Lil' Orphan Annie radio show revealed an advertisement for Ovaltine.

Finally the torch arrived. The runners, one of whom I was there to photograph, were surrounded on all sides by a security phalanx of young men who pushed back hard as the crowd surged to see. I was caught in the middle and found myself made into an American photojournalist sandwich. I joke, but it was more than a little bit scary. It truly felt like the edge of out-of-control.

Pressed back against the crowd, I half-jokingly raised my camera for some Hail-Mary shots. Checking them out later I found a frame of a security person apparently being knocked in the head by a citizen's camera:

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @62mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f3.2)

I did not get a photo of the my subject, but I did get a face full of some overzealous security kid's forearm along with this bad/funny/pathetic image of the torch as it passed me:

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @62mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f3.5)

There was a palpable disappointment from the crowd after the torched passed.

Each runner ran less than 50 meters, and *poof* it was over and the procession made its way down the road.

Some stopped to have their photos taken by the signs marking the station of each torch-bearer. It seemed they weren't sure why, but still needed confirmation they'd been there.

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @38mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f3.2)

None of them had any idea what famous person they'd seen. They knew it wasn't Liu Xiang or Yao Ming.

One woman tapped me on the arm and spoke to me in Mandarin. I don't speak the language, but her question was clear. When I tried to explain to her the torch bearer she'd seen was a "businessman,'' she shook her head, turned on a heel and made off down the street.

They'd gotten their first taste of the Olympics. One didn't get the feeling many would want another bite.

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