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How 2010’s Olympic torch relay started in Greece, ended with Wayne Gretzky in the back of a truck

Vancouver 2010 anniversary: Squire Barnes and the torch relay
WATCH: Squire Barnes looks back at the torch relay for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, which grew to be more popular than almost anyone expected.

The torch relay ahead of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver was one of the longest in Olympic history.

VANOC CEO John Furlong’s vision of a torch relay that touched every corner of Canada resulted in a 45,000-kilometre odyssey, involving more than 12,000 torch-bearers.

Gretzky in the back of a truck: how this iconic Olympics moment came to be
Gretzky in the back of a truck: how this iconic Olympics moment came to be

While the vast majority of torch-bearers were average Canadians, a few celebrities took part.

Arnold Schwarzenegger carried the torch in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Then there was Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who personally chartered a plane so he could run in the relay between NHL games.

Organizers went to great lengths to ensure the Olympic flame that travelled across the country was the same one that was lit at the sacred grove in Olympia, Greece.

Wayne Gretzky leaves B.C. Place with the Olympic Torch in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 following the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
Wayne Gretzky leaves B.C. Place with the Olympic Torch in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 following the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe.

The flame was split into six lanterns that were never allowed to go out.

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“These lanterns were maintained like babies,” former torch relay director Jim Richards said.

“The wicks were changed, they were cleaned, they were oiled, they were fuelled.

READ MORE: John Furlong never wanted the VANOC CEO job. He was thrust into it anyway

“Every day they would go through and make sure that they were attended to. And every night they were carried into a hotel room and they were burning.”

The torch was designed by Bombardier to handle all weather conditions.

The final leg of the torch relay was kept secret until the last possible moment.

Following the opening ceremony at BC Place, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky stood in the back of a pickup truck and carried the torch to the cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza.

John Furlong on the 2010 Olympic torch relay
John Furlong on the 2010 Olympic torch relay

Richards was behind the wheel as the truck drove through the cordoned-off streets of Vancouver.

“No one knew these plans and we’re driving down empty streets,” he recalls.

“But that only lasted about 30 seconds, because everybody who was in the bars watching the opening ceremonies quickly realized, ‘That’s Gretzky! They’re on the road right in front of us.’ And they came streaming out.”

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READ MORE: VANOC says 2010 Winter Olympics 'broke even' (2014)

Looking back on it 10 years later, Richards says it was an honour to have been part of a relay that brought the country together.

“It’s really interesting to see how what we were able to put together mattered deeply to people,” he said.

“It was spectacular, day after day.”

— With files from Squire Barnes