A newsmaker you should know: Wilkinsburg native carries Olympic torch

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Frank Collins, 43, came back to his hometown to run the 2010 Pittsburgh Marathon.

But his most famous run was a lot shorter -- carrying the Olympic torch in England last week for 350 yards.

The Olympic flame for the summer games was lit May 10 in Olympia, Greece, and taken to Athens before it traveled to the United Kingdom May 19.

"I carried it on the sixth day in England [May 24], and people will carry it for 70 days until the summer Olympics begin on July 27," he said.

Approximately 8,000 people were selected to be torchbearers to keep the Olympic flame burning continuously until the summer games officially begin. It is a tradition followed every two years -- for the summer games and then two years later for the winter games.

Mr. Collins graduated from Wilkinsburg High School in 1986, and his parents still live in the Pittsburgh area.

He now lives in Columbia, Md., just outside of Baltimore, where he is a finance manager for Unistar Nuclear Energy. His firm's parent company, EDF (Electricity de France), is one of the official sponsors of the Olympics. EDF selected 70 employees to participate in the Olympic relay.

Torchbearers are nominated by their colleagues or communities for their character and work in the community, according to the Olympics' website, www.olympic.org.

EDF chose its 70 employees from 640 applicants worldwide. Mr. Collins, who has worked as Unistart's finance manager since 2008, is the only representative of EDF's North American companies to be selected. One hundred colleagues signed a petition in his support.

He described a festive atmosphere at the British event.

"It was very crowded with people cheering and waving British flags," he said.

"We were dropped off at our sites by a shuttle, and I was handed the torch by a 12-year-old local girl from England," he said. "I knew my run was only going to take about two minutes, so I took my time."

"My wife and kids were there cheering and chasing after me taking pictures," he said. "It was a very humbling experience. I feel very honored."

"This is the first time the Olympics have been in England since 1946," Mr. Collins explained. "The route is through many different towns in Britain so that it will come within 10 miles of everyone in the country."

Websites are showing the torch relay live as a bus bearing the runners makes its way through British cities, towns and the countryside.

The two-week Summer Olympics in London includes competitions in basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, cycling, soccer, swimming, diving and rowing.

The torchbearers in the relay get to keep their own 2-foot-long torch -- they simply pass the flame on to the next runner. Each torch has 8,000 holes in its aluminum base to symbolize every torchbearer who will carry it on its journey.

Mr. Collins' leg of the run took place north of London, in a town called Gloucester, near Wooster. He and his family attended a reception by EDF in Wooster for its employees who were torchbearers.

After three days of official festivities, Mr. Collins and his family enjoyed several days of sightseeing around London.

"The kids really liked it; it was the first time they had flown for so long, about seven hours, and I think we took every type of transportation -- including bus and train -- while we were there."

"I have a better knowledge of the games now and a pride of carrying the torch," he said. "I'll be watching the games. The flame I carried will now be entering the stadium of the Olympics in London."

Since returning from England, he's placed the torch in his office to share with co-workers.

But he will find a permanent spot for it in his house, and he's sure his children and grandchildren will get a kick out of his honor.

He and his wife just have to agree on where to put it.


Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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