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Old 13th January 2008, 07:43 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Three times lucky for Singapore's Olympic torch relay runner

Three times lucky for Singapore's Olympic torch relay runner
By Debbie Yong



ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THE OLYMPICS, Mr Kamal has represented Singapore in the torch relay for the Athens Olympics in 2004 and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He will also be running with the torch for the Beijing Olympics this year. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

IF THERE was an event in the Olympics that handed out medals for standing up for long periods holding a paper torch, Kamal Akhtar would have to be first in line for the gold.

Okay, it's not a recognised sport, but Mr Kamal's mastery of it has just won him the honour - for the third time - of representing Singapore in an Olympic torch relay.

The 28-year-old engineer outlasted 109 rivals by standing for five hours holding up a paper replica of the torch with an outstretched arm in a contest late last year.

He will now carry the real torch in the lead-up to the Beijing Games in May, a re-run of his first Olympic outing, in Greece in 2004.

He followed that up in 2005 by winning a similar contest - but this time he needed 10 hours to wear everyone else out - to carry the torch for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

His strategy is simple: Keep the elbow holding the torch locked and stay still to conserve energy. So is his motivation: To be involved in the Olympic community, something that worked its magic during his run in the Greek island of Crete for the Athens Games.

'We stayed at a resort which housed fellow runners from China, Russia, Nigeria, India and other places,' he said. 'Who you are or where you came from didn't matter, we were all part of one community united by the same purpose. I was hooked from then.'

However, when he tried to board his homebound flight from Greece, airport security almost detained him for weapons possession.

'When I unzipped my bag and they saw it was the Olympic torch, they shook my hand and congratulated me before letting me on the plane,' said Mr Kamal, who is already eyeing the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010.

His second experience was even sweeter as his run was through a small village on the outskirts of Florence.

Villagers lined the streets to clap and wave as the runners went past, even though it was a wintry evening in December. Kids even gathered around the runners for pictures and autographs.

'Nobody complained about the roads being blocked. In fact, drivers parked their cars by the side and got out to cheer for us. It felt like a national holiday.'

However, it was not all fun and glory, given the stress in ensuring the torch was lit correctly. 'But once I begin running, I clear my mind and enjoy the moment,' he said.

He takes about three minutes to run his allocated 400m, although 'it feels like three seconds'.

'You'll see the next runner waiting in front of you even before you're ready to hand over the flame.'

The relay, which began in 1936, involves the flame being carried around the world by relay runners. It starts in Olympia, Greece, venue of the first Olympics, and ends with the lighting of the flame at the opening ceremony of the host country.

But the Games have an even greater personal significance for Mr Kamal and his wife Nurantan Haris, 29.

In some ways the Olympics have shaped much of their marriage.

In 2004, Mr Kamal brought forward their wedding with the $10,000 cash prize he won then and they used the free trip to Greece as their honeymoon.

Then in 2006, he promised Madam Nurantan the $4,000 prize money and the trip to Italy as a second honeymoon.

No wonder she cheered him on at all three endurance contests.

She joked: 'He can be quite impatient at home so it surprised me that he could last so long.'

And even though she is eight months' pregnant with their first child, she stayed beside him through all five hours of his latest contest, buying him snacks during breaks.

'If he started to slouch, I would point to my stomach and tell him, 'The first was for you, the second for me, so do this one for baby',' she told The Sunday Times.

'That always makes him stand up straight.'

http://www.straitstimes.com/Free/Sto...ry_195698.html

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