Thousands line White Rock streets for passing of the torch

Fans cheer on Scott Bell (above) as he carries the torch along White Rock's Marine Drive Tuesday.

The Olympic spirit was alive and well on the Semiahmoo Peninsula Tuesday, as thousands braved the early morning chill to catch the excitement of the Olympic torch relay.

With three days to go before the 2010 Games begin, a sea of red-dressed souls, young and old, lined the streets from South Point Exchange to Marine Drive and over to Peace Arch Park to cheer on the flame.

“It was cold, but really cool,” said Samara Bouchey, who sang with the White Rock Children’s Choir at the Peace Arch.

“You’re kind of a part of the Games.”

The early-hour arrival – the torch left South Point at 6:12 a.m. – did little to quell anticipation, as parents hoisted youngsters for a better view, huge Canadian flags were waved and crowds broke into bursts of O Canada.

On Marine Drive, spectators jostled for the best view. The excitement crescendoed at the torch’s final local stop, Peace Arch Park, where B.C., Washington and First Nations dignitaries gathered to celebrate the torch’s only cross-border venture.

Semiahmoo First Nation torchbearer Rayne Williams passed the flame to U.S. torchbearer and former Olympian Phil Mahre, who brought the flame through the Peace Arch from the U.S. side to light the cauldron in Canada.

Williams, 14, described the opportunity to carry the torch as “a great honour.”

“It was amazing,” she said, between posing for photos with fellow Olympic enthusiasts.

Premier Gordon Campbell described the relay as “a golden thread that has united our country” and strengthened bonds beyond the border.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire agreed. She described the Peace Arch site as “a beautiful place to celebrate the spirit of the Olympics,” and made a tongue-in-cheek promise to cheer on her neighbour’s athletes.

“I want you to know, premier – right behind the U.S.A., we’re cheering for Canada,” Gregoire said.

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