2003 Special Olympics:
Law Enforcement Final Leg Torch Run

1 Photo

Mr Peter Halliday, former Assistant Commissioner (Information Systems), flew to Athens in June this year to help carry the Special Olympic Games torch to the venue in Dublin. "It was a great honour and privilege to be selected," Mr Halliday told OffBeat.

The 2003 Special Olympics summer games were held between June 21 and 29 in Dublin, Ireland. Some 7,000 athletes took part.

"Most readers will be familiar with the annual Hong Kong Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. Held on a Sunday morning in May, members of the disciplined services run around Kowloon to raise money to send the Hong Kong team to the Special Olympics," he said.

The Special Olympic Games for persons with mental retardation, as with the Olympic Games, are held every two years, alternating between the summer and winter games.

Mr Halliday recalled that: "The first Special Olympic Games were held in 1968 and were conceived by Ms Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a sister of the late John Kennedy, president of the United States of America.

"It wasn't until 1981, however, that Police Chief Richard LaMunyon of Kansas, USA, conceived the idea of law enforcement officers running with the Olympic Torch as a means of raising funds for the Special Olympics. Today, there are Torch Runs in around 30 countries and territories worldwide. Hong Kong is one of these.

"It is traditional for the Olympic Torch to be carried from Athens, Greece, the home of the Olympics, to wherever the Games are taking place. This same tradition was adopted for the Special Olympics. Each country or territory that holds an annual Torch Run is invited to nominate one representative to help carry the Special Olympics torch. For the Dublin games this year, I was invited to represent Hong Kong, and this was one of the greatest honours and privileges accorded to me in my life.

The Torch is lit, the run begins

"On June 4, the Special Olympics torch was lit on the sacred site of Pnyx Hill under the Acropolis and the Final Leg Torch Run began. The Team comprised 93 police officers and 10 Special Olympics athletes from around the world. To take the Flame of Hope across Europe the team was split into three.

"I was assigned Route 3, which left Athens for Belfast via, Istanbul, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Brussels, London, and Belfast. In Belfast, the three teams were re-united and carried the Torch across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to Dublin.

"I have two particular memories that will never leave me," said Mr Halliday. "Before the games started, each of the 130 Special Olympics teams spent a week as guests of a particular town in Ireland. The town of Clonmel was host to the Hong Kong Team.

Warm Welcome

"On June 19, I had the privilege of carrying the Olympic Torch - or Flame of Hope as it is called - and leading the Final Leg Torch Run team into Clonmel. Clonmel is a town of about 25,000 people and I would estimate that about half were on the streets to greet us. I have never seen so many Hong Kong flags in my life. They flew from the rooftops, from the buildings, from the churches and from the hands of thousands of people on the streets. And everyone was shouting Hong Kong! Hong Kong! at the tops of their voices.

"We ran into the town square where the Lord Mayor was present to greet us. I handed over the Flame of Hope. The Mayor took me to one side and told me that the Hong Kong team had not arrived. They were still in Macao under quarantine for SARS.

"To have run so far (over 200 miles) and not see the Hong Kong team was heartbreaking. I am not ashamed to say that I fell to my knees and wept.

"However, the Mayor told me that the Hong Kong team would be arriving in Dublin the following day and that a delegation from Clonmel would go to meet and welcome them. On the evening of June 21, we carried the Flame of Hope into Croke Park, Dublin, for the start of the games.

"The Special Olympics teams then marched into Croke Park in alphabetical order. I heard the master of ceremonies say "And now I see a particular team coming into the stadium. This is a team that we thought we would never see. But now they are here and we are so pleased to see them. Give a big, big welcome for Hong Kong!" About 85,000 people stood up and at the tops of their voices shouted: Hong Kong! Hong Kong! The noise was unbelievable! But it was obviously inspiring the Hong Kong Special Olympics team won 31 medals at this year's games.

"I had a wonderful career with the Hong Kong Police Force and have had a wonderful life. But nothing in my experience is likely to top the emotion that I felt running for Hong Kong on the Law Enforcement Final Leg Torch Run.

"I ask all members of this great police force to support the Torch Run. The pride and joy that you will feel is indescribable. And, who knows, one day you may run for Hong Kong! Let me conclude with a couple of statements that I hope you will find as uplifting as I do."

"My mother and father loved me very much and tried to look after me. But at school the other kids said that I was stupid and threw books at me. I felt so bad. But then I heard about Special Olympics and I told my mother and father and they applied for me to be part of the team. And I won a medal. And now I don't feel sad, I feel good!" Hung Ching Ling, Hong Kong Special Olympics athlete.

"Special Olympics athletes are spokespersons for freedom itself they ask for the freedom to live, the freedom to belong, the freedom to contribute, the freedom to have a chance. And, of all the values that unite and inspire us to seek a better world, no value holds a higher place than the value of freedom." Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Mr Peter Halliday carrying the 'Torch of Hope' into Clonmel

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