Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would be representing my country in an Olympic event. OK, so the Olympic Torch Relay is not technically a competitive event, but it’s the closest I will come!

As a member of Coca-Cola South Pacific’s Public Affairs and Communications team, 2016 has been an exciting year. 

Coca-Cola has been a worldwide partner of the Olympic Games since 1928 and shares the Olympic values: the discovery of one’s abilities; the spirit of competition; the pursuit of excellence; a sense of fair play; and building a better and more peaceful world.

I was excited to be asked to lead the Olympic Torch Relay activity for Coca-Cola in Australia, – there are not many companies so deeply connected to the largest sporting event on the planet, and I was grateful for the opportunity to get involved.

Geoff Papi-Watson

Accompanying Geoff Papi-Watson, the Hobart teenager selected by Coca-Cola to travel to Brazil to run a leg of the Olympic Torch Relay on his first overseas adventure, was exciting enough; little did I know, there was more excitement to come.

Geoff Papi-Watson, a teenager from Hobart, Tasmania, had been selected by Coca-Cola to travel to Brazil to run a leg of the Olympic Torch Relay. I assumed that I would manage the project from Australia, managing Geoff and his father, David’s Brazilian adventure, then cheering them on from home. 

Little did I know I would get to join them on the trip of a lifetime.

The first time I met Geoff, I knew he was special. In his hometown of Hobart a few months earlier, the local council had invited several young people involved in various community programs to be a part of a photo shoot. 

I observed Geoff interacting with the other teens, and noticed he was a natural leader – the others obviously admired him a great deal, and I knew we had chosen the right person for the job.

Returning from Hobart, my manager asked me if I would be interested in travelling to Brazil with the pair, and I was delighted. Accompanying Geoff and David on their first overseas adventure was the icing on the cake – yet there was still a cherry to come.

Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay

When a Coca-Cola employee from Atlanta, who was scheduled to run in the Olympic Torch Relay was no longer available, Amy Selwood from Coca-Cola’s Sydney HQ was invited to take her place.

Just 48 hours before I was due to fly to Sao Paulo, an unexpected email landed in my inbox, leading to one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

A Coca-Cola employee from Atlanta, also scheduled to run in the Olympic Torch Relay, was no longer able to travel to Brazil. I was invited to take her place. My heart skipped a beat. I was stunned – honoured yes, but stunned! I scanned the email twice to ensure I’d read it correctly, before replying a resounding “Yes!”

A few days later we were in Brazil at Geoff’s leg of the relay. It was an emotional experience to witness such a remarkable moment in Geoff’s life. I will never forget the expression on his face as he stepped off the bus to the cheers of the crowd, and proudly holding the Olympic Torch high as he posed for photos. 

I was delighted that Coca-Cola could offer this momentous experience to Geoff and his Dad, and it was an honour to watch them celebrate the achievement together.

Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay

I looked at myself in the mirror in my Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay uniform, including the limited edition Coca-Cola shoes, and I felt so proud.

Less than 24 hours later, it was my turn. I woke very nervous, knowing what was to come after Geoff’s experience the day before. David and Geoff had left Brazil that morning, and I was grateful to our tour guide, Dani, who stayed with me for the day. 

Arriving at the collection point, I learnt there were a number of Brazilian celebrities running that day, so there was a great buzz as we changed into our torchbearer uniforms.

I looked at myself in the mirror in my Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay uniform, including the bright red limited edition Coca-Cola shoes, and felt a mix of emotions. I was so proud to be
representing Coca-Cola, and particularly my business unit in South Pacific. Then it dawned on me that I was also representing my country in this international event. 

A small part of me was disappointed not to have my family or friends there to share the moment with me; however, the excitement soon took over and I was ushered onto the bus and taken to my relay point.

Nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of stepping off the bus to hear the crowd chanting my name. It was a perfect sunny day after an overcast week and I reminded myself to stay in the moment and soak up the atmosphere. 

A Coca-Cola team greeted me at the checkpoint and we danced in the street as we waited for the flame to arrive. One member said: “Take it all in, this is your day – enjoy this gift from Coca-Cola.” In that moment, I was overwhelmed with emotion and I thanked him with a hug.  

As I watched the runner with the flame approaching, one of the officials prepared my torch. The previous runner passing the flame over was a Brazilian surfer. We had chatted excitedly on the bus earlier that day. 

As we conducted the “kiss of the flame”, we both reached out our hands to each other and held on tight. I truly felt the eyes of the world were on me.

Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay

I will never forget that moment and I truly felt the eyes of the world were on me.

Back home in Sydney, I have found even more joy in sharing my story with friends and family. I take great pleasure in watching people pose for photos with the torch – my piece of Rio 2016 Olympic Games history. I am happy to share with them a glimpse of the Olympic spirit I brought home with me from Brazil. 

I have always been thankful and proud to work for The Coca-Cola Company, and with this unforgettable opportunity, I am extremely honoured.

Coca-Cola is the longest-running sponsor of the Olympic Games, dating back to 1928. This marks the brand’s 11th Olympic Torch Relay involvement.