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OTHERS > Countdown begins for young Turkish olympic torchbearer

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

With the countdown to London 2012 heading into its last month, thousands of torchbearers are carrying the Olympic flame across the UK, including Turkish high school student Şeydanur Kabasakal. The girl, who is active in NGO work, explains how she was selected for the rare honor of carriying the torch

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Şeydanur Kabasakal is a high school student. She is also one of the co-presidents of the Child Rights Committee of Ankara. Now, though, the 16-year-old is preparing to add another unique accolade to her CV: Olympic torchbearer.

“[I] can’t wait to see the torch I am going to be carrying,” she said in a recent interview with the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that she was “looking forward to meeting people and seeing how London is preparing for the Olympic Games.”

Kabasakal is one of the Olympic torchbearers who will be carrying the flame in Nottingham on June 28.
The London 2012 Olympic Games are set to kick off July 27, although torchbearers have been passing the Olympic flame from hand to hand since May 19.

More than 8,000 people of all ages have been selected to carry the Olympic flame in more than a thousand stages across the United Kingdom before finally reaching the Olympic Stadium on opening day. The idea behind the journey of the Olympic flame is to remind everyone around the world of the Olympic spirit and that the games are more than competitions among nations.

HDN Torchbearers are role models

The torchbearers are mostly role models and all of them have somehow served as inspirations in varied areas, from sport and education to environment and health. Twenty 20 of the torchbearers, including Kabasakal, have been selected as part of the International Inspiration project, the official London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games legacy program that is being implemented in 20 countries around the world.

International Inspiration in Turkey is run by the British Council, UNICEF Turkey, three ministries, as well as Turkey’s National Olympic and Paralympic Committees. The project hopes to “create a model of schools and community environment where physical activity, play and sports are used by teachers, volunteers, community leaders to socially include and empower children and young people, especially those with disadvantaged conditions,” said Ozan Dinçer, the project coordinator from the British Council Turkey.

How does the young torchbearer Kabasakal see the International Inspiration project? “I see International Inspiration as a project that emphasizes the importance and unparalleled nature of sports and physical activity for children and young people, advocating an active lifestyle,” said Kabasakal. “The project also helps us develop various personal skills like leadership, volunteering, participation, and research through sports and physical activity.”

Asked how the selection process decided to select Kabasakal as the final torchbearer, Dinçer said: “Last year, the UNICEF National Committee of the U.K. issued an invitation to UNICEF Turkey, asking them to select one child to carry the Olympic flame. Later, it was decided that the Family and Social Policies Ministry, one of the project partners, should take the initiative to select the child.”

Eventually, the technical committee selected one girl and one boy to be interviewed for the final decision. The jury was made up of Dinçer, Cenk Temel from the Education Ministry, Professor Derya Aydıner from the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, Nilgün Çavuşoğlu from UNICEF Turkey, as well as Ayşegül Oğuz Goodman, the communication advisor for International Inspiration.

Looking forward to the torch

“Through the interviews, we wanted to see the children’s representative quality as well as the representative quality of their companions accompanying them to London,” said Dinçer. “Language level was another criteria.”

The jury reached a unanimous decision in selecting Kabasakal from Kocatepe Mimar Kemal Anatolian High School, and her companion Nalan Uysal, a social worker from Ankara, as well as an active participant in the Child Rights Committee of Ankara.

It was a once-in-a-life-time moment for Kabasakal. “When I first found out about that I was selected for the torch relay, I was on [cloud nine]. I had been selected for something very exciting, something truly huge,” said Kabasakal. It was uphill after that for her, as she had to deal with a new-found popularity, practice running one to two hours a day and work on her English.

“Following the selection, I became more popular in my school and everywhere else I went to. This all helped build my self-confidence,” said Kabasakal. “It’s an honor to represent Turkey in London 2012. It makes me happy to feel the support of my family and put a smile on their faces.” Kabasakal and Uysal will be in the United Kingdom until June 30.

June/25/2012

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