With fewer than 24 hours remaining before the opening ceremonies, the Olympic torch finally arrived on the shores of downtown Vancouver. I spent the better part of Friday following the torch around the city — sometimes entering the swarm, and sometimes hovering on its periphery. The shot, above, shows a typical scene on a typical street corner in downtown Vancouver. Anyone who’s ever played “Where’s Waldo?” might want to ply their spotting skills, and hunt for the Olympic flame in this photo. It’s there. Really.

Shooting the Olympic flame from within the crowd is somewhat like being in a mosh pit, but without the crappy music. Moments before the runner arrives, and within 1 meter of your own body, 200 cameras attached to 400 arms all rise into the air — swinging wildly to and fro in an attempt to find a shot line between the other 199 cameras in their immediate vicinity. In an instant, and not unlike the experience of photographing a Formula One race from trackside — the flame zooms past and is gone — disappearing into the next meter’s sea of 200 cameras and 400 arms. I grab whatever shot I can get. In the case of the photo, below, it’s Michael Buble carrying the torch into the Live City Yaletown facility. For a brief moment, I ponder the wisdom of living in downtown Vancouver where, at 34,000 people per square mile, we have one of the world’s highest urban density centers. As I cogitate on this statistic, the crowd has carried me like a leaf in a white water stream, 2-blocks down the street. I managed to grab a lamp post to keep myself from getting swept further into the frothing human rapids.

And so it went for an entire day. As the torch zigged through the city, I zagged — staying one step ahead of the flame but never, for a moment, escaping the enthusiastic masses crowding the downtown streets. By mid-afternoon, I realized my best chance to get an unobstructed shot of the flame would occur on the shores of False Creek, which the torch was scheduled to cross by canoe.

On Saturday and Sunday, I succumbed to the desire to be a tourist in my own town — visiting as many Olympic venues as possible, and soaking up the culture and excitement of the games. Today, Monday, I will regain my professional composure and, joyful indiscretions behind me, begin to photograph these games with the sort of “street” eye that I, and my readers, expect.

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©2010 grEGORy simpson

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