Q&A with Olympic Torchbearer Steve Blair
Prominent scientist carries the flame, explains ‘The Kiss’

Steven Blair, P.E.D., FACSM, long has illuminated the connections between physical activity and health. On July 11th, he literally took up the torch for the cause, serving as an official torchbearer for the London Olympics as James Pivarnik, Ph.D., FACSM, had done for the 2008 games. SMB caught up with Dr. Blair after his service as a Torchbearer.

SMB: What did you find surprising or unexpected about the experience?

BLAIR: I was really impressed with the number of people and the enthusiasm they exhibited. There must have been thousands of people on the street over the ~5 km course that was the route of the group of which I was a part. The crowd consisted of infants in arms to very elderly people in wheelchairs. There were many school groups, from elementary to high school students. Many of the kids had Olympic Torches they had made.

SMB: How does carrying the torch relate to your lifelong study of physical inactivity?

BLAIR: I think I was given the opportunity to participate in the Torch Relay because of my research on physical activity and health. I am grateful that work in this area was recognized.

SMB: From the video, the crowd seemed quite excited to witness the torch run. What is it about the Olympic torch that connects people to the history and significance of the Games?

BLAIR: I was not only impressed by the number of people, but also their excitement. Many people ran along the street and kept taking many pictures. I was a bit surprised by the level of excitement. People wanted to have their pictures taken with me, wanted to touch the torch, etc.

SMB: How long was your segment of the run? Did you do any special preparation? What instructions were you given, and how did staff help support you and control the event?

BLAIR: All people go about 300 meters (even the 91-year-old former Olympic gymnast who was part of my group). The staff was simply outstanding. We had a great briefing by Coca-Cola staff the afternoon before we were to run. They continued to provide information and support. Each of us had a Coca-Cola staff member leave the hotel with us and our guests, and go the place where were dropped off to join others. I think at that point they take 15 to 20 people on each bus (there were 19 in my group). The staff at the drop-off point gave excellent instructions, and one of them went with us on the bus. The bus followed the route and dropped each of us at the place where we would start our run. There was a Metropolitan police officer there to brief us. When the runner carrying the torch approached the next person, he/she was accompanied by four police officers. The showed us how to place the torches and turned on the torch of the person receiving the “kiss” (which is what they call the exchange) and turned off the torch of the person presenting the “kiss.” After the flame on your torch was extinguished, there were a few seconds for people to pose with you, and then the staff person helped you on the bus, and placed your torch in a rack. I get to keep my torch, and it is currently being shipped home along with a stand. The support and control of the event were simply unbelievably high quality.

SMB: Are you folding the torch run in with other travel, or other Olympics events?

BLAIR: I am not staying for the Games, but will visit friends in Exeter for a couple of days, and will then go to London for press conference and symposium on The Lancet’s special series on physical activity. We will then go to Glasgow for the Pre-Olympic Scientific Congress. I hosted this event in Dallas before the Atlanta Games. It is held before every summer Olympics, and has been since Tokyo in 1964.

Dr. and Mrs. Steven Blair caught up with former President Bill Clinton in a London pub.
SMB: You’re a scientist, dealing with reason and facts, but no doubt this was a highly emotional experience. What feeling or impression is strongest about the whole experience?

BLAIR: You are correct. It was an exciting and memorable experience. I thought (the next day) would be a downer after all the excitement, but Jane and I met our friend Bill and had a very nice chat about many important topics such as global warming, educational issues, sustainability, and childhood obesity. [Editor’s note: See photo of the Blairs with former President Bill Clinton.]

SMB: What are your hopes for America and the world in connection with the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games?

BLAIR: The Games are, of course, important sporting events, and they create a lot of excitement around the world. However we must not expect them to have an effect on the major public health problem of our time, physical inactivity. We must maintain our efforts for Exercise Is Medicine and the National Physical Activity Plan.