Olympic Festival fever hits Derry this weekend

Siun Heaney, left and her mum Siobhan,  who will be carrying the Olympic Torch
Siun Heaney, left and her mum Siobhan, who will be carrying the Olympic Torch

This weekend, Olympic Festival fever will hit Derry as the Big Flame Weekend gets into full swing ahead of the arrival of the Olympic Flame in the city.

For two St Cecilia’s pupils, Karlann McDermott and Siún Heaney, involvement in the event began way back in 2011 when their design for a local Olympic Mascot gained first place out of 2,500 entries in a special regional competition.

Now, as special ambassadors for the 2012 games, they will join 22 other local torchbearers – including Siún’s mum - specially nominated to carry the torch through the streets of the city on Monday before the final flame is lit at a ceremony in St Columb’s Park Stadium.

Siún explained how the teenagers first got involved. “When the competition came up to design Northern Ireland’s mascot, Karlann and myself wanted to show what best represents our region, Northern Ireland, and our city, Derry. We asked some of our teachers what they thought best represented the city, and the walls was the most popular response so we decided to use that as our background for Wenlock’s body.

“We also thought the Troubles should be represented - but especially how we are moving on. So, on Wenlock’s body, the Olympic emblem and the stripes are coloured red, white and blue to represent the Protestant community and green, white and orange for the Catholic community. We decided to leave the Olympic emblem white as a sign of peace, as the two communities are working hard to create peace. Our mascot design incorporates friendship, respect and equality.”

But, now, with only days to go before they take up their torches, the reality of the task ahead is only starting to sink in.

“Carrying the Olympic Torch is an honour,” Siún revealed. “I think it’s brilliant that the torch is even coming to Derry - it makes Northern Ireland feel like we really are part of the Olympic Games. I also sat on the selection panel for the Olympic Torch, so I’ve read many of the nomination stories and there are some really inspirational people out there.

“I think it’s brilliant that half of the torch bearers across the UK have to be under 24 as it gets more and more people involved. Even for people who aren’t carrying the flame, I think it’s important for them to come out and support it on the day - whether it’s standing along the roads cheering on the torch bearers or actually taking part in the events that Derry City Council have organised.”

According to her fellow ambassador Karlann McDermott, it will be a bit daunting taking their places among the 8,000 torchbearers who have included the likes of Black Eyed Peas star Will.I.am and Radio One DJ Chris Moyles.

“It was an absolute privilege to be asked to carry the Olympic Torch on behalf of Derry City Council as it’s not something that comes around often,” she said. “To this day, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet because, when I’m watching other people carrying it on TV, I can’t picture myself in their shoes. But I’m sure when I get my gear and then Monday morning comes it will be very exciting. ,

“My family and friends will all be there standing along the sidelines cheering me on I’m sure, as they are all excited about the Torch’s arrival in the city. As long as the flame doesn’t go out or I don’t drop the torch I’m sure everyone will be happy.”

And there is plenty of excitement in the Heaney household as Siún’s mum, Siobhan, will also be carrying the torch on the day. Siobhan was nominated by her daughter, and also her local doctor, Angela McCarron, for her extensive work promoting sport within the community and local schools.

“We’re all getting really excited now as our Olympic packs with our tracksuits etc have just arrived, and now after all the buildup, it seems a bit more real,” she explained. “It was amazing to get the nominations, and to be taking part with Siún really does make it extra special as nothing like this will happen again in our lifetime. I was so proud to be nominated and proud of Siún for her role.

“There is such a buzz about the arrival of the Olympic Relay in the local communities, and the schools are all full of excitement about it. It’s brilliant for younger people to be able to take part in the event – they are all watching it unfold on TV and can’t believe it’s coming here as well. It’s so important for them to have sporting heroes and to be able to dream of excelling and maybe someday taking part in the Olympics themselves.”

For more information about the Big Flame Weekend events line-up and the special Olympic Relay route, go to www.derrycity.gov.uk/BigFlameFestival.