SPORTING stars of bygone days hailed their boyhood heroes as plans were unveiled for the Olympic flame’s route through the North East.
Yesterday it emerged that the iconic torch would visit Alnwick, Newcastle, Durham and Middlesbrough during its 70-day, 8,000-mile relay across the length and breadth of the nation.
And to mark the occasion – which is exactly 12 months away – North East legends Steve Cram and Brendan Foster kick-started the celebrations.
Steve was on Newcastle’s Quayside with 71-year-old Jim Alder, from Morpeth, Northumberland, who won a Commonwealth gold medal, two silvers and a bronze during the 1960s.
And Steve paid a tribute to the long-distance runner who sparked his career. The Olympic silver medallist said: “He inspired me as a kid. I went to watch him when I was little and that’s how I got involved.
“He was a champion when he was an athlete, but then for a longer part of his life he dedicated it to helping others onto the sporting ladder.”
Olympic organisers are hoping that people from the North East will nominate the heroes who have inspired them. And those that are selected for the “Moment to Shine” event will have the chance to be a torchbearer for 300m along the Olympic flame’s route.
Brendan Foster paid tribute to his school teacher, George Felton, 75, from Sunderland, who helped him on his way to success. The former European Champion said: “George was my PE teacher and he got me started in my running career. I wouldn’t like to think what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for him.”
The Olympic torch will arrive on Tyneside on Friday June 15 and an evening of celebrations is planned as the greatest sporting show on earth is staged in the region for the first time.
Coun Ged Bell, deputy cabinet member for culture and leisure at Newcastle City Council, said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of the greatest sporting show on earth which is coming to our city. We hope it will inspire children and young people.”
Meanwhile Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to assess the torch’s route after Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott asked why the city was to be bypassed.
She said: “What would the Prime Minister say to the people in Sunderland, the largest city of the North East and my constituents, on the news that the Olympic torch is not stopping in the city?”
Mr Cameron said: “I have to say I wasn’t aware of that and perhaps I can look into the route the Olympic Torch is taking and if it is possible to divert it via Sunderland. I will certainly do my best.”
Anyone wanting to nominate people for a spot as a torchbearer should log on to www.london2012.com/olympictorchrelay
Sir Alan Beith, MP for the Berwick upon Tweed constituency which includes Alnwick, said: “Bringing the Olympic flame to our area will remind people that although the focus of the Games is London, we can all get involved, as well as generating valuable publicity for the vibrant and beautiful North East.”