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Tuppy to carry a torch for an old flame

LINEUP CARD COLUMN It's right. It just is. An Olympian, carrying the Olympic flame.


It's right. It just is.

An Olympian, carrying the Olympic flame.

That's the case today, when Tuppy Hoehn -- Michelle 'Tuppy' Collard when she was an Olympic biathlete in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 -- has 300 metres to carry the torch on the relay route in Prince George.

Aside from being transported back in time to the ceremonies in Nagano, or reliving her perfect-shooting performance in the sprint event there, few things could've filled Hoehn with the Olympic spirit like the moment she found out she'd get to carry the flame.

To say she's bubbling over the opportunity doesn't properly portray her tone. The "I'M REALLY EXCITED" that roared through the receiver was seemingly in stereo -- if ever a telephone turned into an IMAX theatre, this was it.

"I was thinking about it today, and one of the most exciting parts of being at the Olympics was seeing the flame come into the stadium, and then seeing them light the Olympic cauldron," she said on Wednesday, as she was counting down the hours to today's appearance of the Olympic flame in the city.

"To be a part of that, even a small part of that, this time around is pretty cool."

It's true -- Hoehn has competed in the Olympics, marched in Olympic ceremonies, stayed in the athletes' village, and skied and shot on the international stage. But today will be a first, holding the torch, beaming for every step.

"It's funny, you know? When they had the opportunities for people to apply through RBC and Coca-Cola, I didn't apply because I'd already had my Olympic experience and I wanted to let other people participate," she admitted.

"But later I had an opportunity to apply to participate as an Olympian, there were some spots set aside, I guess, so I sent in my name and found out pretty much the next day that I'd be carrying it in Prince George. I got really, and I mean REALLY, excited about it."

Hoehn -- I still want to type in Collard, an old writing habit dying hard -- was 32nd in her 7.5-kilometre event in Nagano, and she proudly remembers not having to ski any penalty laps for missing the targets in the shooting portion.

Notably, Hoehn, now a mother of two girls, isn't the only top-flight athlete to hold the torch. Bo Hedges, a silver-medallist in wheelchair basketball at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, will take his turn in Hixon this afternoon.

With the torch relay now hours away, Hoehn finds her mind double-poling back to the Japan experience. Being an Olympian, going to Nagano with Canadian colours on her back, will always be a highlight of her life. She was 23 then, and thought it was the first of what would be two, maybe three Olympic appearances.

"VANOC has this incredible video for all the torch-bearers, and it shows footage from the relay in Calgary (in 1988), and other opening ceremonies, and it includes the one I was at in Japan," said Hoehn, one of the all-time best interviews -- articulate, funny, and with a respectful perspective.

"It makes me want to cry! I get to be a part of these Games in a different respect. I'm excited about the Games themselves, more and more as they get closer."

Which brings her to answering the obvious question -- what does an Olympian think of all the opposition to the Games that is getting so much media play in the host country, the host province?

"It doesn't frustrate me, but I think people need to accept the fact it's happening no matter what and we should all pick the positives out of it," said Hoehn.

"It's bringing a lot of profile to the province and we'll see spin-offs in a positive way. It's brought more focus to amateur sports in B.C. and that's a huge bonus itself. I think it's a good thing and I know not everyone agrees.

"I come from a different perspective than most, I realize that. I was fortunate to be an Olympic athlete. It's a privileged life, but you have to eat, sleep and train -- I miss it, but at the same time it's exhausting and I wanted to do some other things like go to university."

Besides the simple fact the Olympics are in our own province, starting in two weeks, there are two other reasons Hoehn is having Nagano flashbacks. The first is that her father Paul, a well-known dentist in Vanderhoof and a long-time supporter of all things biathlon, is the chief of competition for the biathlon event in Callaghan Valley, close to Whistler. The second is that Prince George's very own Megan Tandy, just 21, will compete in her first Olympics as part of the Canadian biathlon team.

"It was so special in Japan to have my dad there, that's something I won't ever forget about it," said Hoehn.

"I'm so excited for Megan. I haven't talked to her in a long time, but I have been following her and I hope for the best. I hope she's healthy and positive going in, and this will be a great experience for her as a first Olympics. This will set her up well for the future. It would be cool to be racing at 'home.'"

If the torch comes through P.G. another time, maybe Tandy can yet again follow in another northerner's footsteps. Not a bad relay to be a part of.