Parker man joins Olympic torch relay in Russia

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Few people get the chance to participate in an enduring custom that symbolizes the cooperative international spirit of the Olympic Games.

Parker resident Mark Hall considers himself incredibly lucky to be randomly selected to take part in the Olympic torch relay. Hall and his wife, Denise, traveled to Russia last month as the flame made its way through western portions of the country. For a few fleeting moments, he was the center of attention, jogging along a historic street in St. Petersburg with flashbulbs erupting, people cheering and escorts alternately shouting instructions to either slow down or speed up.

Despite running for only 200 yards, Hall said he was able to take it in and remember every step.

“When I got to the middle of the road with (runner No.) 142 approaching, I knew that in a few seconds, I would be the only person on the face of the Earth holding the Olympic flame that was lit,” he said. “To me, that was an awesome moment.”

Every photo of Hall running shows him grinning from ear to ear. The locals in St. Petersburg clamored to get a photo with him, and the 50-year-old says he felt like a celebrity. He described the entire, all-expenses-paid trip as the “experience of a lifetime.”

Hall works for Visa, a major sponsor of the Olympics, and put his name into a company lottery. Each Olympic Games, three employees are randomly picked to join the torch relay. Hall, who grew up in the Littleton area and moved to Parker in 1996, was the only American in the bunch.

There is more to being a torchbearer than might appear to the eye. Every runner must attend an orientation that addresses the proper ways to receive, handle and pass off the torch. With the help of hired interpreters, organizers also “tell you how to stand, how to look — there’s a lot of logistics,” he said.

Hall remembers clearly the first Olympic Games to which he devoted his attention. It was 1976 and he was 13 years old. Hall was spending the summer at his grandparents’ house in New Mexico and they watched every night of the Olympics, starting with the relay.

“I remember them running into the stadium with it, and I thought, ‘Boy, that would be fun to do,’ but I never really thought I would have the chance,” he said.