SAN FRANCISCO -- The route change for the Beijing Olympic flame torch relay was out of consideration for torchbearers, said Gavin Newsom, San Francisco mayor, at the farewell ceremony at the airport on Wednesday.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (R) talks with former Mayor, and torch bearer, Willie Brown at the closing ceremonies for the Olympic torch relay at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday, April 9, 2008. The route change for the Beijing Olympic flame torch relay was out of consideration for torchbearers, said Newsom at the farewell ceremony at the airport on Wednesday. [Agencies]
"Not only will it (the route) likely change up until the event, but during the event. I couldn't have been more clear.. that conditions could precipitate that would make us make changes in real-time," said Newsom on his decision over resetting the relay itinerary.
The shortened route passed through Fort Mason, Crissy Fields and Golden Gate Bridge down the Presidio avenue. The previous itinerary covered AT&T Stadium, the home court for San Francisco baseball team of Giants, Bay Bridge, Ferry Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, China Town, Lombard Street and Civic center, Ciot Tower and Fishermen's Wharf.
The torchbearers had to run two in line in order to ensure each bearer an opportunity to carry the torch.
The torch relay set off well in the pre-arranged China Bay Park. But facing threats by Tibetan separatists and their supporters to storm the relay, San Francisco police made a swift change of the route and shortened the course by half.
"They (the Chinese government) did not put pressure.. in fact, quite the contrary.. unlike Paris and London, we did not have flame attendants in San Francisco; we saw people in sweatpants that were surrounding the flame," said the mayor.
"We only afforded two of them - only to turn the torch on - and the reason we do that is clear -- we will run the security, we will run the torch relay, we'll make the determination of where it goes and how it's going to be saved," Newsom told a group of local reporters after a brief ceremony.
"The Chinese government had nothing to do with the decision," he said. "(Neither) the Beijing Organizing Committee nor did the International Olympic Committee make the decision. It was made by law enforcement, about protecting people's lives."
Newsom added that had the relay gone down the scheduled route, he feared that someone might get hurt, that there would have been massive arrests, that he "could not look the people running in wheelchairs in the eye" and say to them that he "was going to put them out there in the middle of those crowds and guarantee their safety".
The Olympic flame is heading for Buenos Aires, the only stop in South America, for the seventh stop of global journey.