Torch Makes Final Stop in Florida
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Alan Chipperfield strained to see the Olympic torch as it entered a popular riverside shopping complex Tuesday to the cheers of thousands.
Hours before in St. Augustine, Chipperfield had carried the torch. He was one of about 1,000 people to help ferry it around the state on a 15,000-mile trek from Los Angeles to Atlanta for the July 19 opening of the Olympic Games.
``We helped it get here and helped it get to Atlanta,″ said Chipperfield, an assistant public defender in Jacksonville. ``It was a lot of fun. People get real excited about seeing the Olympic flame.″
At the Jacksonville Landing, the crowd roared when torchbearer Chris Hobday entered the shopping mall’s courtyard. Several thousand had awaited the torch in a driving rainstorm at midday.
The rains had subsided when Jennifer Dittman lit her torch off the cauldron for the short run to a Coast Guard ship anchored in the St. Johns River. After a short boat trip, accompanied by a small fleet of pleasure craft, the torch was placed on a Coast Guard helicopter to be flown to Tybee Island, Ga., where it would begin the final leg of its journey.
Several former Olympic athletes carried the torch in Jacksonville. They included Bob Hayes, who won a gold medal in the 100-meter dash in 1964; Joe Dube, who competed in 1968 in weightlifting; Mike Heath, who won two golds and a silver medal in freestyle swimming events in 1984; and Mary Irene O’Conner, who participated in rowing in 1980, when the United States boycotted the games in Moscow.
Alex Trebek, who hosts TV’s ``Jeopardy,″ also carried the torch in Jacksonville. The game show is an official sponsor of the 1996 Olympics.
The torch entered Florida 10 days ago near Campbellton in the Panhandle and took a circuitous lap around the state. It traveled by foot, wheelchair, bicycle, boat and seaplane.
Stephen Powers, a mathematics teacher at Florida Community College at Jacksonville, was still enthusiastic a day after he had carried the torch in St. Augustine.
``It was a great experience. It is good for America,″ he said.
Kerson Schroeder, 18, who recently graduated from Fletcher High School, escorted the flame from the city gates in St. Augustine, for about two miles.
``I got to run next to the torch. It was great,″ he said. ``It was history at your fingertips.″