HELENA- This week, the Olympic torch relay entered its final stretch, making its way through the last few stops and heading to Pyeongchang for the opening ceremony.
Back in 2002, the torch made its 65-day journey to more than 65 locations in the U.S. for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games. A familiar face to many many Montanans took part in that relay: current Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney.
He had just finished his tenure as Secretary of State when he ran the torch. Eventually, Cooney donated his Olympics tracksuit and the torch to the Montana Historical Society.
We reunited them this week to learn more about his experience.
He started by explaining that becoming a torch runner involves a nomination process. He was surprised to have a friend from Ohio nominate him for the honor.
Cooney says, “He called me one day and said this may seem crazy, but I’ve nominated you, I think you’d be great, you’ve done a lot of things, and this would be a nice way to cap off your career as Secretary of State. Next thing I know I get a large amount of paper to fill out. And they asked all sorts of questions, and I filled it out. I got a notice saying you’ve been selected and there was corporate sponsorship. The torches actually cost, you had to buy your torch, unless you were sponsored by a company that would do it. And I was sponsored by Coca-Cola. I received instructions to go to West Yellowstone, and that’s where my route was going to be. There were five or six of us who ran the torch through West Yellowstone.”
The lieutenant governor showed us how he was instructed to hold the torch and explained that it was numbered, as was his track suit, to keep the runner with the correct torch.
For Cooney, it was an experience he won’t soon forget.
“It was a great honor, totally unexpected.”
Years later, it was time to decide what to do with his Olympics memorabilia.
“I had the privilege of serving as the interim director of the Montana Historical Society. And it was something that I just thoroughly enjoyed. I got to really know how this place operated, how they took care of things, treasures,” he explains. “And I asked them. I said I have this – is this something you’d be interested in? I didn’t know if they would. And they said yeah, we think it would be a neat item to have.”
This week was the first time he’d seen the items since donating them around 2011.
“This is the first time I’ve seen it since I handed it over,” Cooney said. “And this is a great home for it, and I’m delighted that they’re happy to have it.”
Seeing the suit and torch reminded the lieutenant governor of how much the experience as a whole meant to him.
“I remember very distinctly driving down to West Yellowstone; we had some friends with us, we made it a day, we did the run, it was very special to be a part of it.”