By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In less than three weeks, the whole world will be watching as the opening ceremony kicks off the 2016 Olympic Games at Maracanã Stadium on August 5th. As one grand event draws closer to beginning, another major event is edging closer to ending, as the Olympic torch relay enters the final stretch of its tour across Brazil.
Since the torch relay began on May 3rd in Brasilia, a diverse cast of characters, from young to old, from citizens to refugees, from the famous to the everyday man on the street, has been carrying the torch throughout the country.
As the torch enters the home stretch of its journey, which by its end will have included over 12,000 torchbearers, on Thursday, July 14th, an unlikely torchbearer ran with the iconic flame through the southern town of Curitiba, former South African rugby player Chester Williams.
The 45-year-old Williams was chosen as a torchbearer to commemorate the sport of rugby’s return to the Olympics for the first time in 92 years, in a smaller, faster version called Rugby Sevens, with only seven players on a side as opposed to fifteen.
“It’s amazing that rugby sevens is part of the Olympics,” exclaimed Williams. “It’s an opportunity for rugby to show that we have all the Olympic values; respect, enjoyment and excellence, plus the balance between body, mind and spirit.”
Williams is best known for having played a pivotal role in the South African rugby team, the Springboks, championship run in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Williams was the only black player on the Springboks championship squad. The story of the team’s improbable championship was famously depicted in the Clint Eastwood film “Invictus.”
As he carried the torch throughout the city, Williams said proudly, “Carrying the torch today has been amazing. This torch stands for friendship. I am very proud and honored to be here. I can’t explain the feeling I have – it comes very close to when we won the World Cup.”
The first rugby match of the 2016 Games, is a women’s matchup between France and Spain at Deodoro Stadium on August 6th.
All in all, by the time the torch arrives at Maracanã Stadium on August 5th, it will have visited 300 cities and travelled about 20,000 kilometers across all the regions of Brazil.