OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY: Memories of 1948 for torchbearer's son and pensioner who will run again
MEMORIES for Olympic torchbearers last a lifetime - indeed the experience is so special that stories get passed down from generation to generation and become fabled in family folklore.
FLASHBACK: An Italian captain carries the Olympic flame in Bari, as it travels from Greece to London for the 1948 Olympics. Inset left Vito Colonna with 1948 torch and inset right, his father Francesco (Getty Images)
In the next 70 days nearly 8,000 will carry the flame on its journey around every corner of the United Kingdom - and those lucky enough to run with the torch, even if only for a few hundred metres, certainly won't ever forget it.
Back in 1948 the relay was still all new. It was only introduced at the previous Olympics, staged 12 years previously in Berlin, and was the brainchild of Games chief organiser and International Olympic Committee member Carl Diem.
Because of civil war in Greece, the flame was carried to the port of Katakolon from where the British frigate HMS Whitesand Bay took it across the Adriatic on a 22-hour journey to the Italian port of Bari.
From there the relay moved through to Switzerland, visiting the grave of IOC founder Baron Pierre de Courbetin, Belgium, Luxembourg and France - accompanied all the way by a slow moving Rolls Royce and huge crowds.
Vito Colonna's father Francesco was among the 2,000 runners who carried the torch 64 years ago, one of two soldiers from the Italian army asked to take custody of the flame after it arrived from Greece.
Just a few years earlier Francesco had escaped a German concentration camp and had made it exhausted back to his home town, where his relieved family - who had feared he may have lost his life - didn't even recognise him.
However, the chance to carry the flame remained one of the greatest experiences of his life and he never missed an opportunity to remind his family that he ran for two-mile stretch of the relay between San Severo and Serracapriola.
“For many years, my father told us all stories about that wonderful experience,” said Vito, who was born two years after his father carried the flame.
“My father was in a concentration camp in Germany and did not even think he would survive that awful experience.
“Becoming a torchbearer for the Olympics was something rather random but also magnificent to him.
“The torch is still in my home and I will always cherish it as a very precious object.
“These Olympics are an occasion to recall the experience of my father back in 1948, and if there’s ever a shot, I would love to carry the flame in memory of him."
George Phillips also carried the flame in 1948 and will do so again on the first day of the relay, which covers nearly 100 miles between Land's End and Plymouth.
Roberts, now 87, was personally invited to take part by organising committee chairman Lord Burghley, after winning Devon's 1,500m title just a few weeks earlier.
Back then he carried the torch for three punishing miles, tomorrow he will have to cover just 300 metres.
"I'm told the 2012 torch is much lighter, the 1948 got really heavy after a mile or so and I had to keep swapping my hands," he recalled.
"I'd been warned to do this above my head or there was a chance my hair would be singed."
And the light never went out on his torch either.
"My friends turned it into a lamp that sat on my bed-side table," adds Phillips. "It's one of my proudest possessions."
© Sportsbeat 2012