City alters torch route, leaving many fuming about event

On a cool day in San Francisco, the hot issue of the Olympic torch left people steamed after the route the torch took went nowhere near where officials said it would.

The torch — which has provoked protests, most recently in London and Paris, since it was lit in Greece for the Beijing Olympics — was rerouted away from where spectators had lined up. The relay’s planned closing ceremony at Justin Herman Plaza was also canceled.

The much-debated route was changed after protesters, including elected city officials, occupied the middle of The Embarcadero and a bus carrying ceremony participants was stopped and surrounded by demonstrators, Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

There was also consideration of canceling the entire San Francisco leg of the relay, he said.

Newsom, police Chief Heather Fong and U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth met at a hotel to discuss the situation at 1 p.m. The surrounded bus was the “last straw” and the route needed to be changed entirely, Fong said.

Newsom said he didn’t want to succumb to protesters and decided to change the route; the path up Van Ness Avenue was presented and approved, the mayor said.

At the opening ceremony at McCovey Cove near AT&T Park, the first torchbearer — Chinese swimmer Lin Li — took the flame from a lantern brought to the stage and held it aloft before running into a waterfront warehouse. A motorcycle escort departed, but the torchbearer was nowhere in sight.

Later, the torch, transported by a vehicle, reappeared at the new route, which began at Van Ness Avenue near Pine Street. From there, torchbearers carried the flame into the Marina, finishing at Doyle Drive.

Newsom said the torch took a route that had been abandoned during planning in favor of the route along The Embarcadero.

The impromptu route, however, did not stop protesters, Fong said. While on Doyle Drive, officials decided to drive the torch to San Francisco International Airport immediately since all the torch­bearers had run, she added.

The plane carrying the torch took off from SFO at 9:05 p.m., airport duty manager Abubaker Azam said.

Security concerns in The City kept the route from being made public until April 1, but city and Olympic officials reserved the right to change the route up until the flame was on a plane headed to its next stop.

Newsom said it was “not an easy day but a responsible day.”

“It wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t the intent, but it was the right decision,” he said of changing the route.

The mayor had previously said that those wishing to see the torch would be best served by waiting near Justin Herman Plaza and theFerry Building.

Maya Harris, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said in a statement that the new route appeared to be “unnecessary.”

“We have serious concerns that the route was changed to avoid the protesters,” Harris said.

Olympics officials said the torch run seemed successful.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the San Francisco relay had “fortunately” avoided much of the turmoil and disruptions that marred the legs in London and Paris.

“It was, however, not the joyous party that we had wished it to be,” he said at the opening of a two-day IOC executive board meeting in Beijing.

dsmith@examiner.com

Examiner Staff Writers Josh Sabatini and Mike Rosenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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