BY JOE COUTURE STAFF REPORTER
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan leaves for Beijing from Vancouver International Airport with his latest wheelchair gizmo, this one to carry the Olympic torch.
It’s the same device that helped him bear the flag at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, but modified to hold the torch. With flames and the possibility of gusts of wind now involved, he said he’s going to be extra cautious.
“My job is to come back with my hair intact,” he joked to reporters at Vancouver’s airport yesterday as he prepared to board his flight.
About 1,000 people will participate in the torch relay, 10 of whom will be from Canada, he said.
“I’ve been asked as the mayor of Vancouver, and as someone who really does make a lot of effort to make the Paralympics a priority.”
Sullivan will spend 20 days in China. Most of the beginning of his trip will focus on promoting Vancouver’s Olympics in 2010.
“All of the eyes of the world will be focused on Vancouver for the next 14 months,” he said.
“We’re going to be able to show the world just what we’ve accomplished as a city . . . Beijing has set the bar very high. They’ve got the pressure on us right now.”
Midway through the trip, Sullivan will carry the torch and then witness the beginning of the Paralympics.
“I’m also really keen to raise the awareness of people with disabilities in China and throughout Asia . . . I have a lot of requests from people in China to let people know that people with disabilities should be able to contribute.
“I’ve been to Beijing before, and they are making some real efforts. But there hasn’t been a real awareness of the capabilities of people with disabilities.”
With an election looming in which he won’t run, Sullivan expressed some sadness about being unable to represent Vancouver when the Games are in this city in 2010.
“Of course, I would have loved to give the flag away as I received it in Torino,” he said. “But I accept that politics is a roller coaster. I’m just so honoured the citizens have given me three years of incredible experience.”
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan has a device on the side of his wheelchair specially designed to help him carry the torch when he does his stretch of the relay to open the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing.