Can you think of a better way to spend a winter Arizona afternoon than by taking a leisurely stroll through a park? It sounds picturesque enough, but there sure is one way to top it -- if the park is bustling with festival activities and if it's an official pit stop of the Olympic torch en route to the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Quite a rare occasion indeed. So perhaps we should feel fortunate that not one but two Valley parks will soon be transformed into recreation destinations when they fill with people anxious to see volunteer Valley athletes bearing the Olympic flame. The feisty fireball will pass through the hands of 11,500 torchbearers in 125 cities over 65 days before it reaches the games in Utah on February 8. Whew!
After stopping in Tucson on the morning of Sunday, January 13, the flame will speed up I-10 via motor caravan, then flicker its way through Tempe to its first local stop at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. A 5:30 p.m. ceremony for the runners will be the high point of Sunday A'Fair, an afternoon chock-full of events sponsored by the Scottsdale Center for the Arts and Arizona Public Service Company.
Starting at noon, visitors will be able to take in a variety of performances that will prime the crowd for the impending appearance of the torchbearers. First off will be the Phoenix Chinese Art Ensemble, whose energetic, colorful show features traditional dance and instruments. Next up at 1:30 p.m. will be the Sankofa group, with masked dancers gyrating to the beats of West African drums. Later in the afternoon, at 3 p.m., folklorico dances will be performed by the Scottsdale International Club's youth dance troupe. Finally, the Swingtips will take the stage at 3:45 p.m., playing American swing music all the way through the countdown to the arrival of the Olympic torch.
Festival revelers will also be able to wander through artists' booths and an outdoor gourmet market, tag along on guided art tours and grab a bite to eat.
Winding through the streets of Scottsdale to its destination at the mall, the torch will make a short 15-minute stop at the festival before continuing on to Phoenix. The torch should arrive at Patriots Square Park in downtown Phoenix at about 8:45 p.m., but festivities will start at 6:30. Streets around the park will be filled with concession stands and children's art displays. Plus, the Phoenix Children's Chorus will perform, and Olympic video footage will be projected onto an enormous screen. When the flame finally arrives for a caldron-lighting, the torchbearer will be greeted with patriotic fanfare.
After all that running, another torchbearer will take the fire and hop a train to Yuma. With 13,500 miles to cross, this flame really gets around.