Former Olympic athletes and local high-tech designers gathered in the Palo Alto Westin Hotel on Tuesday, June 16, to witness the unveiling of the first-ever sustainable, solar-powered, non-fossil-fuel torch for use in the 2009 Summer National Senior Games.
The torch is a product of collaboration between the Palo Alto-based design firm IDEO, the 2009 Senior Games Local Organizing Committee, and e2k, a Palo Alto-based special-events and technical-production company.
Believed to be the first non-fossil fuel torch in the history of both the Senior Games and the Olympic Games, the torch was revealed in a ceremony with former Olympians, including swimmers Kim Carlisle, John Naber, and diver Micki King, "honorary Olympian" Rosie Casals, and Senior Games participants Beth and John Guislin in attendance.
To be held in the Bay Area from Aug. 1 to 15, the games promote healthy lifestyles for adults over 50 by providing a forum of friendly competition for athletes, according to organizer Anne Cribbs, a 1960 Olympic competitor in swimming.
Billed as the the largest multi-sport event in the world for athletes 50 and older, the biennial games are expected to draw about 10,000 athletes and 25,000 spectators (mostly family members and friends) to the Bay Area for more than 800 events of 25 sports, ranging from horseshoes to water polo.
Organizers estimate the event will generate a $35 million economic impact.
Phil Godfrey, president and CEO of the National Senior Games Association, said the games are really about "getting people active."
The Bay Area was chosen as this year's host location due to the facilities and support mechanisms available. Godfrey said Silicon Valley is "the place where special things happen," a sentiment echoed by Michael Olmstead, president of e2k, who viewed the location as an ideal synthesis of this year's themes of sustainability and the "innovative use of technology."
The solar-powered torch unveiled Tuesday combines these themes and is an emblem of the games -- along with a 12-foot-high solar-powered "cauldron" yet to be unveiled that will be lit during the games.
The 2.75-pound torch is the result of a year's collaboration and engineering, its creators explained. It uses six high-powered LEDs, a uniquely faceted amber lens, and solar-charged cells and a mechanism that flickers the intensity of light as the torch is moved to mimic the appearance of a flame. Such engineering features make the torch much more than a "glorified flashlight," according to IDEO industrial designer and torch team member Martin Schnitzer.
Mark Harrison, an electrical engineer at IDEO, said the torch "has a lot of power; it's kind of like a car taillight," requiring a fan and cooling system. Elongated battery packs and computer boards were specially developed to fit into the torch's handle. The Li-polymer batteries have a charge of approximately 1.5 hours, perhaps less if the runner is a sprinter and increases the number of brighter pulses.
Harrison worked closely with IDEO model maker Diem Ho to preserve functionality and the streamlined wood skin of the torch. Reclaimed redwood, taken from the original Scotia Mill in Humboldt County, built in 1887, forms the body of the torch. Organizers said the synthesis of the wood and high-tech components merges tradition and innovation.
The torch is "more than an object. … It's a message that gets carried throughout the world," Schnitzer said.
Anne Warner Cribbs, president and CEO of the 2009 Summer National Senior Games, echoed the connection between torch and athlete: "These competitors, like the torch that was specially designed for them, are trailblazers and shining examples of how ingenuity, effort, perseverance and vision create a vital new paradigm that promotes health and sustainability for people and the planet."
On Aug, 1, the torch will be carried by 54 runners, including former Olympians and Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier, each running about 300 meters, from San Francisco to Palo Alto. The relay begins at Crissy Field, from which runners travel along the waterfront to the wharf and Pier 39, where a sailboat will transport the torch to Willie McCovey Cove at AT&T Park.
Runners will pass through the park and across home plate before boarding a southbound Caltrain and arriving at Palo Alto station. After a circuit through Stanford campus, passing the games venues, the torch will be carried down Palm Drive and University Avenue, eventually arriving at Palo Alto City Hall.
Cribbs said actually three torches will be used in the relay, after which one will stay with the Bay Area Senior Games, one with the national organization, and one with Olmstead.
Schnitzer and IDEO teammates also designed a solar-powered cauldron for display during the games. The more than 12-foot high structure consists of a metal frame and some 800 mirrored tiles, arranged in a sweeping, open-ended hourglass shape and surrounded by solar cells.
The cells provide power to the structure's eight 15-watt LED floodlamps, making it glow at night. The cauldron uses approximately 0.6 kilowatt hours per day, about as much as a 400-watt incandescent bulb.
"It takes a lot to create something as powerful and important as these games, and that's what the cauldron represents," Schnitzer said. The cauldron will be unveiled and "lit" after dark on Aug. 1 in a "Flame Arrival Ceremony" at Palo Alto City Hall. It later will be moved to Pac 10 Plaza on the Stanford campus for the duration of the Games.
In addition to the torch, cauldron and awareness campaign, the local Senior Games committee is undertaking numerous sustainability initiatives to reduce waste and pollution during the two-week event, Cribbs said at the torch ceremony. The committee has also pledged to work with sponsors and vendors to "reduce the use of non-recyclables and encourage the purchase of sustainable products."
The athletes "train, exercise, eat right and compete with honor and fair play," Cribbs said in a statement about the "green" games. "These same principles apply to taking care of the world in which we live, and the Local Organizing Committee is going to do its part to act accordingly."
A theme song for the games was played for the first time in public at the torch unveiling. Sharing the slogan of the games, the song, "Long Live the Challenge," was co-written by Olmsted and a friend. With vocals by Mickey Thomas of Starship fame, the 1980s-esque rock tune takes to heart the games' mission, encouraging athletes to "step beyond the walls of age." It celebrates athletic vibrancy by proclaiming that "it feels good to feel this good."
Thomas will perform the anthem live on Aug. 8, at the 2009 Senior Games Celebration of Athletes in Stanford's Maples Pavilion.
Cribbs said volunteers for the two-week event are still needed. As of Tuesday, Cribbs said approximately 1,400 of a desired 4,000 volunteers have signed up.
The event also needs about 47,000 bananas to give athletes, she said.
Information on the games and volunteering is at www.2009seniorgames.org.