Runner politely asks city for torch back

Published 6:55 am Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twenty-five years ago, Tim Torgerson carried the Olympic torch as it made its way to Los Angeles for the summer games.

After running his leg in Kansas City, Torgerson, who worked at the Austin YMCA at the time, donated the keepsake to city council.

Now, the St. Paul resident and American Cancer Society national funding director can have it back if he wants.

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Torgerson e-mailed city administrator Jim Hurm a few weeks ago and said he had heard the torch was in storage and not being displayed.

If that was the case, Torgerson wrote, he’d kindly want it back.

On Monday night, council decided Torgerson can have the torch back, given he either comes and picks it up or pays for it to be shipped.

The council would even throw in a display case currently housing the torch.

Torgerson said Tuesday that he hadn’t given much thought to whether he will actually claim the torch because the city informed him that it has been on display — albeit in that display case on the floor of a City Hall conference room.

“Yeah, of course it’s a keepsake. It was a neat experience for me,” Torgerson said. “(But) I need to think about (whether I will claim it).”

Torgerson said the experience of running the torch is something he will never forget.

While working at the YMCA, he was approached by then-Mayor Tom Kough about an opportunity to run with the torch as a way to raise money for the YMCA and local youth sports.

Torgerson had a good enough mile time to qualify, so he ended up getting selected for the run.

He said he was amazed by how much attention he and others got in Kansas City that hot June day in 1984.

“I couldn’t believe the number of people who came up (to me) and talked about it,” Torgerson said. “I was asked for autographs.”

To cap off what he called his “15 minutes of fame,” Torgerson ended his run by transferring the Olympic flame to the assistant mayor of Kansas City at the time.

In fact, it was the flame that was so important, Torgerson said, not the torch he carried.

A van traveling in front of him during his run had three lanterns that were supposedly lit by a fire in Greece, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games.

Every four years, that flame is transferred to the host city during the opening ceremony.

“The whole thing was a true honor,” Torgerson said.

Immediately after his run, Torgerson kept the torch as he was a guest at parades, school functions and other events.

When the hoopla died down, the city asked for the memento and Torgerson felt like it would be nice to display it in Austin.

That’s where it has been ever since, and in fact, it was joined by another torch about 12 years later.

Before the 1996 games in Atlanta, the torch run came through Austin. The keepsake from that occasion is in a case on the wall in the city administrator’s office.

Whether Torgerson gets his 1984 torch back or not, he said just talking about it today brings back great memories.

“I couldn’t believe it was such a big deal,” Torgerson said. “I’m thrilled to have been a part of it.”