Thousands join in Olympic spirit

The Olymp[ic torch relay in Wakefield
The Olymp[ic torch relay in Wakefield
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THOUSANDS of ecstatic spectators lined the streets this week to witness the once-in-a-lifetime moment the Olympic torch visited the district.

Fifty thousand people turned out to wave their Union flags as the flame travelled through Castleford, Pontefract and Ackworth on its 8,000 mile journey across the UK.

Excitement was running high on Monday as colourful floats teeming with dancers and live music whipped adults and school children into a frenzy as the torch lit up Castleford.

Dad-of-two Mick Cooney, who was nominated for his charity work, had the honour of carrying the torch in his home town.

Mr Cooney, 39, of Brindley Park Drive, Glass Houghton, said: “I saw it as an honour, I was amazed at the number of people who turned up, a lot of the children were in fancy dress and there were people everywhere.

“I was very lucky. To run with the torch where you live was extra special. I’ve gone into school while it’s fresh in children’s minds and they’ve loved it – it’s about doing something in your community.”

Spectator Paul Morgan, 62, of Altofts, watched as Mr Cooney – his Ferrybridge Power Station work colleague – carried the torch along Park Road.

He said: “We wanted to support the Olympics, we want to absorb the atmosphere. We’ll never see it again, it’s the chance of a lifetime.”

In Pontefract an electric atmosphere crackled over Jubilee Way as people blowing whistles and vuvuzelas queued for two hours to await the torch.

A roar erupted from the crowd when 24-year-old torchbearer Charlotte Furlong jogged up the road clutching the burning flame with pride.

Miss Furlong, of Sandal in Wakefield, said her “legs were like jelly” as she took the torch.

She added: “It was a really special day. I’m still lost for words as to how to describe it. It was out of this world. I didn’t know where to look, there were so many people.

“I knew it would be a good experience but it has been fantastic. It’s been really emotional.”

Around 20 friends and family from across the UK made the pilgrimage to Pontefract to support Miss Furlong, who was nominated for her volunteer work.

Proud mum, Jan Furlong, who was at the roadside sporting a patriotic red, white and blue hairstyle, said: “I thought it was absolutely phenomenal, what a day to remember. The atmosphere was wonderful.”

In Ackworth, thousands of eager residents flooded the village streets to welcome the torch at Barnsley Road.

Daredevils clambered on garage roofs and scaled pub signs to get a bird’s eye view, while Moor Top roundabout was covered with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the torch before it left the district.

Mick Cordall, 43, carried the torch along Pontefract Road and said he was still reeling from the experience.

The Hemsworth dad-of-one, who was nominated for his charity work, added: “I just keep playing it back in my mind. It was brilliant. To see all the crowds and people coming out in force, it was just awesome.

“I couldn’t have heard myself think, I was starstruck. People were wanting to take photographs and shouting my name. I’m still taking it in.”

Emma Guthrie, 22, of Doncaster Road, joined fellow residents watching the relay.

She said: “It’s great they included a small village like ours in the celebrations because usually we would have to travel to a bigger city or town to see something of this scale.”

The Olympic torch started its journey through the district in Wakefield city centre, where Featherstone fundraiser Jono Lancaster carried the flame.

Mr Lancaster, 27, was nominated for his charity work in raising awareness of his genetic condition, Treacher Collins Syndrome, and said he was ‘moved’ by the experience.

He added: “I have been overwhelmed by the response - it has been surreal. I didn’t quite realise what a huge event it was until this morning and then when I saw the crowds it hit me.

“I think it is great that the community came out to support us and I shed a few tears. I used to get children calling me Mr Scary and people doing a second look when they saw my face, but now they run up to me and call me Jono and want to congratulate me.”

According to Wakefield Council figures, almost 85,000 people joined in the celebrations across the district.

Coun Peter Box, council leader, said: “This was our moment to shine and the people who lined streets across the district did themselves proud today.”