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Sycamore man recounts travels with Olympic Torch

Published: Thursday, July 26, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
During a presentation Wednesday at the Sycamore History Museum, Abed Zantout of Sycamore holds up a 1984 Olympic Torch that he helped engineer.

Not many people can say they have built an item that is an internationally recognized symbol of sports. Abed Zantout can.

When he was a product engineer for the now-defunct Sycamore-based Turner Industries, Zantout was one of two engineers who designed and built the Olympic Torch for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Zantout gave a presentation to 11 people Wednesday at the Sycamore History Museum. During his presentation, he showed pictures of his journey with the Olympic Torch, as well as Olympic memorabilia from the area.

With him were two of 5,200 torches his company made for the Olympic Games.

“Someone asked how much did the company spend on this,” Zantout said. “I don’t know. We didn’t make any money on it.”

In an interview, Zantout described the entire experience as being “near and dear to his heart.”

“I tell people, outside the birth of my son, who was born later that year, it was the most exciting time of my life,” Zantout said.

He accompanied the torch on two different portions of its journey across the United States. He started the first segment in Lubbock, Texas, with the torch and ended in Boulder, Colo. The second began weeks later in Portland, Ore., and ended in Sacramento, Calif.

“My job was to instruct these people how to handle the torch,” Zantout said, including how to carry the torch and how to transfer the flame between torches.

He was also the person who lit the first torch. That moment provided Zantout some personal fame, as it was captured by newspapers across the country.

“I was in so many pictures here,” Zantout said. “People who knew my in-laws would see my name and picture, in the local newspaper, they would cut out the picture and send it to my mother-in-law.”

He said there were two types of runners who carried the torch – people who donated $3,000 to do so, or volunteers from AT&T’s pool of employees. The employees, he added, carried the torch through desolate areas.

The 1984 Games were the first Olympics to have corporate sponsorship. The 80-day torch run was funded by AT&T, while the cars that accompanied the torch were donated by General Motors.

The torch convoy was like a mobile town – because there were numerous RVs that housed all of the runners. The convoy had its own cafeteria, where the convoy members could eat whatever they wanted for free, Zantout said.

Each of his journeys, which were at least 700-miles long, allowed the Sycamore resident to share stories of the road.

In Colorado, they stopped at a town that held “Christmas in June” because of how it would snow there.

“We spent the evening there singing and dancing,” Zantout said. “It was very fun.”

Zantout said throngs would come out to see the torch as it passed. In his presentation, there was a photo of a large crowd of people standing on a bridge, awaiting the arrival of the torch to their city.

“Wherever we went, we were met with crowds like this,” Zantout said.

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