Olympic flame torchbearers revealed


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The Independent Online

An Iraq war veteran, an 84-year-old marathon "walker" and a star teenage gymnast with cystic fibrosis were confirmed today as among the 8,000 people to carry the Olympic Flame next summer.

The trio were among 29 torchbearers guaranteed a part of the 8,000 mile route.

It will take them and a relay team of 8,000 "inspirational" people 70 days to complete.

The 29 were told in the last few weeks they had won one of the first confirmed places and were then sworn to secrecy.

Moira Starkey, 84, from Storridge, Herefordshire, won her place after raising more than £10,000 for charity and by walking round Storridge village hall 2,000 times to cover 26 miles.

Miss Starkey, who walks with two sticks, said: "I am fighting fit.

"I found out I was involved a fortnight ago but I had to keep it under wraps and I couldn't say anything.

"I don't mind how far I walk as long as I don't drop it."

She will be joined by Simon Brown, 32, from Morley, West Yorkshire, who lost most of his sight after being shot in the face while saving six colleagues in Iraq in 2006.

He was nominated for helping young people come to terms with sight loss and for his work with military charities.

Mr Brown, who served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, said he was ecstatic.

"Five years ago I was in a hospital bed being told I had lost my sight. I went from being a soldier to being a blind man.

"I have been rebuilding my life for the last five years and the nomination is recognition of how far I've come."

The former soldier applauded his fellow torchbearers for their strength of character.

He said: "I chose to join the Army and got hurt doing that but lots of these people have had things thrust upon them. I am humbled to be around them."

Mr Brown summed up the flame carriers' excitement for their big day, saying: "My heart's going to be thumping and there will be butterflies in my stomach but I am just going to enjoy the moment.

"Hearing people cheering and shouting your name will be spine-tingling."

Gymnast Holly Hamill, 17, of Glengormly, Northern Ireland, was nominated by her family and coach for overcoming cystic fibrosis to become a star athlete - this year winning four gold apparatus medals at the Rhythmic British Championships.

She said: "It is amazing to be part of this - I just hope I don't fall over. The feeling should be epic."

Her mother Brenda said: "Holly has always been determined and would not let cystic fibrosis stop her doing anything. I am absolutely delighted for her."

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has made 6,800 conditional offers so far - with participants subject to background checks.

The final Torchbearer team will be revealed by March.

The lucky 29 were revealed today at a series of Olympic events around the country.

All have remarkable stories of courage, achievement and overcoming adversity.

Matt Short, 20, from Tonbridge, Kent, was nominated for setting up a charity to research a rare form of bone cancer he was diagnosed with in November 2007.

Mr Short, who lost a leg to the disease, has undergone long bouts of chemotherapy and hopes his day carrying the torch will have extra significance.

"Hopefully, it will mark an end to my period of recovery and be a new beginning," he said.

"If I had to do it tomorrow, it would be impossible."

Mr Short still suffers from the symptoms of his illness but summed up the spirit of his fellow torchbearers, saying: "You just get on with it - make the most of the life you have."

Also nominated were a series of people whose selflessness had improved their communities, such as Darwin Bernardo, 23, from north London, nominated for his work to steer young people away from lives of crime and anti-social behaviour.

Posing with the Olympic torch, he said: "I am overwhelmed, there is so much to take in.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I never thought it would be me.

"It's not sunk in yet but it will do when I speak to my friends about it.

"On the day I'll just focus on my 300 metres and take each step with pride knowing I'm representing a generation of young people who have made a difference in their communities."

Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: "Huge congratulations to all those with an offer of an Olympic torchbearer place.

"They are an exceptional group of individuals and it's an honour for us all that these people are one step closer to carrying the Olympic flame on its exciting journey around the UK."

Part of the torchbearers' route looks set to break with tradition as sporting chiefs are allowing the flame to travel outside the UK into the Republic of Ireland ahead of the London games.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it brought the spirit of the Games closer to home.