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Pan Am Games torch relay will last 41 days and visit over 130 communities

03/16/2015 11:15 EDT | Updated 05/16/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Four-time Olympic athlete Simon Whitfield, a Toronto police officer and a youth worker from one of the city's inner suburbs will help carry the Pan Am Games torch on its 41-day journey through more than 130 Canadian communities.

The first of about 3,000 torchbearers were announced Monday at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, where organizers also unveiled the torch design and torchbearer uniforms.

"It's just so exciting because I get to be a part of Canadian history... I get to one day tell my children that I did this," said Francis Atta, 28, a youth worker and motivational speaker in the city's troubled Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

Though he hasn't been told which part of the route he'll run, Atta said he hopes it will be his home ground because it will inspire others and "people will go crazy."

Zsofia Balazs, a 24-year-old swimmer who won silver in the 2007 Pan Am Games, is waiting to hear whether she'll compete this summer as well as run in the torch relay.

"It is a lot of pressure to now actually make the team," and balance her job as a Toronto police officer, she said.

Balazs said running with the torch carries its own unique stress.

"The torch does have that magic and they say there's a myth that if the torch goes out, it's bad luck for the Games," she said.

Whitfield recalled the thrill of seeing cheering crowds on the sidelines when he carried the Olympic flame in Victoria, B.C., for the Winter Games five years ago.

"It's an experience about community," he said Whitfield.

The orange and white torch features pictograms of athletes in action, stands 65 centimetres high and weighs just over a kilogram.

"It's so quintessentially Canadian — it's simple, unapologetic, it's great. And lightweight, too," Whitfield said.

The flame will be lit in May in a traditional ceremony in Teotihuacan, Mexico, before it travels to Canada, arriving in Toronto on May 30 and returning there for the Games' opening ceremony on July 10.

The torch will venture outside of Ontario, with appearances in Richmond, B.C., Calgary, Winnipeg, Gatineau, Que., Montreal and Halifax.

Over 60 alternative modes of transportation will be used, including plane, train and ferry boat.

About 6,600 athletes from 41 countries will compete in 36 sports at the Games, which will be held from July 10 to 26.

Canada plans to field its largest-ever Pan Am Games team of 700 athletes.

The Parapan Am Games are set for Aug. 7-15.

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