Mayor Gavin Newsom yesterday announced during a news conference at Portsmouth Plaza
that 80 Bay Area residents have been selected to carry the Olympic torch through San Francisco,
Photos by Luke Thomas
By Caitlin Cassady
April 5, 2008
Amid rising concerns surrounding the Chinese government’s recent crackdown on the people of Tibet, Mayor Gavin Newsom yesterday announced a fisheries biologist, a former Olympic pentathlon, a registered nurse, and an author, are four of the 80 people who will relay the Olympic torch through San Francisco on Wednesday.
Six of the selected torchbearers joined Newsom during a news conference in Portsmouth Plaza in the heart of Chinatown.
More than half of the 80 torchbearers were chosen after they submitted an essay about their commitment to a sustainable community.
Under pressure to take a stronger stand against the Chinese government’s actions in Tibet, Darfur and Burma, Newsom said, “I look forward to the Olympic torch coming through the city peacefully.”
Torchbearer Ed Lee, a city administrative officer, seconded Newsom’s idea and said the Olympics means bringing people together and adjusting to international turmoil.
“It’s a foundation to resolve a lot of conflict in the world,” Lee said about the Olympics.
Lee was one of the 41 torchbearers who was chosen after submitting an essay to a selection committee in February. The committee received 543 applications, most of which were from Bay Area residents, Newsom said. The city and county of San Francisco were given 41 spaces to choose applicants for, and the sponsors and Olympic committee will choose the remaining 39.
All torchbearers have to be approved by the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games before they will be allowed to participate in the relay.
Newsom was originally supposed to appoint six of the torchbearers, but he declined and asked the committee to designate the additional runners.
Former Olympian Marilyn King said she is proud to be part of the relay. King did the pentathlon in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics and was part of the 1980 team that boycotted the Moscow Olympics.
King, an Oakland resident, said much of the media focus has been on protesters who oppose the Olympics because of China’s treatment of Tibetans.
She said that as a peace activist she hopes the Olympics “shine a light” on human rights abuses and inequities, but that any boycott of the games should be economic and political, not a boycott of the games.
Torchbearers Marilyn King, Ed lee, Shirley Olivo, Helen Zia,
Lisa Hartmayer and Todd Hallenback.
The athletes who have spent years training should not be denied the right to compete, King said.
Newsom also encouraged people to focus on the torch as a symbol of the Olympic spirit and the athletes, not in the context of human rights.
The torch is not specific to a certain country, Newsom said, “it is the Olympic torch” and it will continue on for centuries.
For the past few weeks, protesters have been outside City Hall, opposing the torch’s arrival and calling for international support for human rights in Tibet, Burma and Darfur and for Falun Gong practitioners in China.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 protesters from the local Tibetan community are expected to attend the torch relay, said Giovanni Vassallo, president of the Committee of 100 for Tibet, one of five groups that are coming together for the protest.
Vassallo said the coalition has obtained permits for three city park squares, including Ferry Park, which is adjacent to where the closing ceremony of the torch relay will be held. He also said protesters are expected to line the torch route.
California Highway Patrol officers and members of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department will join city police in ensuring that the event goes smoothly.
Newsom encouraged everyone attending the relay of the torch to respect others’ viewpoints and their freedom of expression.
“There are many points of view, and no matter what you believe the torchbearers deserve credit and respect,” Newsom said. “No one should have their rights or beliefs impinged on by others,” he added.
Commenting on the Chinese government’s activities in Tibet and Darfur, Rose Pak, an activist with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said she didn’t agree with the actions taken by the Chinese government but said she is proud of her heritage and supports the Olympics.
“I don’t agree with all the stuff the Chinese government does, but I am very proud of my heritage and I’m very supportive of the Olympics,” Pak told Fog City Journal.
“They (the protesters) should be respectful of our heritage,” Pak added.
When asked what message she would like to convey to the Chinese government, Pak said, “On what moral ground do we have as United States citizens lecturing what China should do when our own President would drum up falsehoods and bomb Iraq back to the stone-age, killing several hundred thousand innocent Iraqis.”
“Look at all the problems in the world, (they) are all created by Western countries with their phony-baloney moral standards,” Pak added.
The relay is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Wednesday with an opening ceremony at McCovey Cove. The route will then proceed north to Third Street, the Embarcadero, Jefferson Street, Hyde Street, Beach Street, Polk Street, Bay Street and back to the Embarcadero for a concluding ceremony a Justin Herman Plaza.
“I am proud that San Francisco was chosen,” as the North American representative for the Olympic torch relay, Newsom said. “It (the torch relay) not only celebrates the Olympics, but it celebrates freedom of expression, which is the ultimate affirmation of what makes this city and country so great.”
Luke Thomas contributed to this report.