SHEPHERDS OF THE FLAME
The 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York were perhaps the most thrilling for Americans. It was the year the US beat Russia in hockey. “I can still see goalie Jim Craig’s face looking for his dad in the spectator crowd, draped with an American flag,” says Gene Deutscher of Temple, one of the torchbearers who carried the flame to the games.
The flame was flown from Mount Olympus in Greece to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. From there a torch relay team of 52 runners, one from each state, Washington DC and the Village of Lake Placid, transported the Olympic Flame from Langley to Lake Placid. Gene represented Texas. “There were 26 men and 26 women. We ran 1,000 miles in 8 days and remained at the Olympics for the entirety of the games. We had passes to all events.”
Being chosen as a torchbearer was kin to being selected to compete in athletic events. Gene is a runner. He participated in 26 marathons by the time he was 40. He was a hospital administrator in Fort Worth in 1978 when his assistant told him about hearing on the radio that the 1980 Olympics were preparing a team of torchbearers.
He replied that he was too busy. But for months his assistant kept telling him he should try out. Finally he gave in and his assistant sent off for a packet of information. “It was like applying for grad school,” says Gene. “There were pages of forms to fill out, I had to give a bio and write 3 or 4 essays about why I wanted to do this.” His assistant said she would fill out all the forms. All he had to do was write the essays. So it was all mailed to Lake Placid’s PO Box 1980.
Six weeks later he heard from the man in charge of ceremonies and awards and was invited to go to the Astrodome in Houston for a 3-mile tryout run. 100 runners from 5 states showed up. Two or three more months passed and Gene was invited to go to Dallas for an interview. It lasted an hour and a half. Six more months passed and Gene learned he had made the team. He was to be in Lake Placid in August of 1979 to get the layout of the route and familiar with Lake Placid. Gene was 38 at the time. The ages ranged from 16 to 52.
“We arrived in Lake Placid 4 days before the Olympics started. We ran into the village escorted by police motorcycles and other state vehicles. There were crowds of people cheering us and waving American flags. We were elated. It was such an honor to be a Shepherd of the Flame.”
At a luncheon after the Olympics, each runner was presented an Olympic Torch. Gene donated his to Mary Hardin Baylor University in Belton. It’s in a specially contracted display case that makes the torch appear to be floating in mid-air. The runners have stayed in touch by a newsletter. “Each of us writes what’s going on in our lives.” The group has had 3 reunions.
“It was the highlight of my life,” says Gene.