Published February 15, 2012
LONDON – It was a different kind of Olympic marathon.
A member of the House of Lords walked from Greece to promote peace during the London Olympics, striding up to the center of Britain's government Wednesday after completing some 6.3 million steps.
Carrying a bright red backpack, Michael Bates, a conservative politician has been walking since April 22, 2011 in hopes of persuading all nations to cease hostilities during the 2012 Olympics — just as they did in ancient times.
Despite Bates' quixotic quest, he was optimistic about his chances of making an impact.
"Probably all crazy people think what they are doing is sane," he told The Associated Press after leaving London's Olympic Stadium on the final leg of his 2,823-mile (4,543-kilometer) journey. "I was just convinced of what I was doing."
Bates, 50, wanted to draw attention to an ancient Greek tradition that called for a cessation of hostilities to ensure safe passage for athletes to take part in the Olympics. In those times, he said, the lighting of the torch and the running of it signaled the start of the truce.
So when Olympic authorities decided to limit this year's torch relay to Britain and Ireland — after wide protests in 2008 against China hosting the games — Bates decided to teach people about the true meaning of the Olympic flame.
He set out from Olympia, the cradle of the ancient games, on a 10-month, 15-nation trek.
Bates got plenty of help on his tour from British consulates, which arranged meetings for him with Pope Benedict XVI, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge.
His truce notion won broad support at the United Nations. All 193 U.N. member states agreed to co-sponsor a resolution urging countries to stop all hostilities and observe a truce during the London Olympics — which are being held from July 27 to Aug.12. The General Assembly adopted the resolution by consensus to the applause of diplomats, but it's hard to see how troubles will suddenly cease in places like Syria or Afghanistan.
The brief but intense Russian-Georgian war began only hours before the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the war in Bosnia continued during the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games in Norway.
Along the way, Bates faced mishaps — a broken arm after tumbling down a ravine in Switzerland, the oppressive heat in Albania. His feet have held up, however, so he was pleased.
The only place he didn't walk was through the Channel Tunnel that links England and France, because authorities denied him permission. He took a ferry from Calais to Dover last week, and kept walking before completing the final leg that ended outside the House of Lords in London.
Along the way, he became a huge fan of one Olympic sponsor: McDonald's, ordering Chicken McNuggets in several languages and using their free WiFi.
Bates believes something has been lost since the ancient games, something absolutely intrinsic to the Olympic ideal, in the era of big corporate sponsorships, doping scandals and preening superstars.
Bates says if he gets people talking about the Olympic truce and what it means, that will be his accomplishment.
"If each country just did one thing, that would make the investment of my feet all the worthwhile," he said.
Danica Kirka can be reached at http://twitter.com/DanicaKirka