London 2012: Young North London sprinter’s in dreamland after lighting Olympic flame

11:49 30 July 2012

Desiree Henry (third from right) was one of seven young athletes to light the Olympic torch at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

Desiree Henry (third from right) was one of seven young athletes to light the Olympic torch at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Enfield & Haringey sprinter Desiree Henry says lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony in front of a global audience of more than a billion people is the greatest moment of her life so far.

The 16-year-old was one of seven young athletes nominated to light the cauldron by former Olympic champions at the end of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.

Nominated by two-time Olympic decathlon gold medallist Daley Thompson, Edmonton’s Henry was told of her role by Oscar-winning director Boyle himself during the World Junior Championships in Barcelona last month, where she finished fourth in the 200m.

Five-time Olympic champion Sir Steve Redgrave was the red-hot favourite to light the cauldron while Thompson, Roger Bannister and David Beckham were all considered to be in the reckoning.

But, having won the right to host the 2012 Olympics with a bid based around inspiring youngsters, the London organisers stayed true to their word by giving the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Henry and co.

“It was an out of body experience,” said Henry, who attends City & Islington College. “I can’t even put it into words what it felt like, it didn’t seem real and it still doesn’t.

“It’s an experience I wouldn’t forget in a million years – just to be in the stadium alone was special, but to be part of such a historic moment like that was just incredible.

“We had done it a couple of times in rehearsals, but absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the real thing. It was a moment we’ll all cherish for a really long time.

“When I was first told I was stunned – it was just amazing to me that Daley Thompson even knew who I was, let alone that he was nominating me to light the flame.

“For Olympic champions to give up such an amazing moment and pass it up to seven people not many people have heard of, that sums up exactly what these Olympics are all about.”

Aside from her mother Valerie, not even Henry’s family and friends knew anything about her role in the ceremony – let alone that she would be part of the iconic finale.

And with two weeks between being told and taking part in the ceremony, Henry believes it’s remarkable she managed to keep it quiet for so long.

She added: “I’m surprised I even managed to keep it a secret for that long – that in itself was an amazing achievement.

“I would be speaking to friends and family and all I wanted to do was yell at the top of my lungs what I was doing, but I had to keep it in and act normally. It sounds ridiculous now but it was really tough.

“The great thing is the organisers stayed true to the theme of the Games. They said they wanted to make it all about the next generation, and to inspire them, and it was so good that they put their words into practice.”

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