Keeping the Flame: 1st torchbearers picked

Among the people selected to carry the torch for the 2012 London Games are community organizers, cancer survivors, disabled children and an Iraq war veteran.

And then there is 84-year-old Moira Starkey from the town of Storridge in western England. Starkey, who needs two canes, completed a marathon last year by walking around her town hall 1,876 times, not counting her victory lap. She's ready to be a keeper of the flame.

"They're going to have to contrive some way of strapping it to me," she said Friday. "I did ask my surgeon and he said he could graft another arm — but he said I'd have to wait 50 years."

Starkey was among the first people given an offer to carry the torch, as Olympics organizers began letting the first of an expected 8,000 people know about their places in the relay.

The torch bearers have largely been nominated in community ballots in an event meant to focus on the great and the good in cities across the country. Though star athletes and other celebrities are certain to be included among those named to carry the flame, Olympics organizers consciously made the choice to first focus on local heroes.

Keeping things local was also part of larger Olympics efforts. Human rights activists disrupted the international torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, prompting organizers to scale back the run. The International Olympic Committee had to give special permission for the relay to be extended to Ireland as a gesture of peace and political good will.

Even so, authorities will be cautious. Security will be high to prevent disruption, but the very public nature of the relay makes it a target for those angry over the expenditure of funds on the Olympics by the Conservative-led government, whose austerity plans have led to job cuts, pension rollbacks and university tuition fee increases.

The runners will go past landmarks and through remote islands the length of Britain. Thousands of offers have been dispatched for the 70-day affair, though all of the participants won't be notified until the end of January. The London Games begin on July 27 and end Aug. 12.

But the excitement has already started for Starkey, who began working with her charity, the Haven, after a friend diagnosed with breast cancer received help there. She is just so excited to talk about the charity and what a "a lovely bunch of girls" they are. She said she can't wait for the torch — so the whole world will know as well.

"I'm going to practice around the village hall," she said.


Danica Kirka can be reached at