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Olympic Torch Reaches Missouri

May 27, 1996

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Kevin Leathers felt like a rock star, politician and athlete all rolled into one Monday, carrying the Olympic flame on the opening leg of its visit to Missouri.

``People were coming up and asking for my autograph and wanting me to have my picture taken with their children,″ said Leathers, 31, of Cape Girardeau. ``It was really neat.″

The torch arrived in Missouri from Memphis, Tenn., aboard a 19-car railroad train. It marked the 31st day for the flame on its winding, 15,000-mile journey from Los Angeles. The relay ends in Atlanta on July 19.

The torch was in Missouri briefly May 16, when it passed through St. Joseph and Kansas City.

Leathers was one of 32 ``community heroes″ who carried the flame through Cape Girardeau County. He was picked because of his volunteer work, including organizing a fund-raiser for the city’s police department.

Leathers fired his torch from a flame boiling from a cauldron aboard a special rail car. He ran about sixth-tenths of a mile to the Common Pleas Courthouse steps, where a welcoming ceremony was held.

At first, Leathers feared tripping on the stairs or dropping the torch. But he practiced once.

``I wasn’t really nervous until people started asking me about it,″ Leathers said. ``I didn’t want to be the guy who got on national TV because he tripped going up the stairs or something.″

Leathers trotted the torch to the top of the stairs with no trouble. After the ceremony, led by Ginny Fuldner, who won the Olympic gold medal in 400-meter freestyle swimming in 1964, the flame was on its way.

About 10,000 people watched the runners carry the flame from Cape Girardeau to Jackson, where it was handed off to bicyclists and more runners who carried it to Perryville, Ste. Genevieve and points north.

The torch was to travel 282 miles Monday _ nearly twice the daily average of 150 miles _ using a combination of running, bicycling and rail.

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and 13-year-old Zachary McVey were scheduled to run the last leg of the day’s journey into Festus together. McVey, an eighth-grader, has spent the last week training.

``This will be a total adrenaline rush,″ Zachary said.

In 1984, Smith carried the torch that was headed to Los Angeles.

The torch was to travel to Arnold on Tuesday. Then it was to be carried north to St. Louis for the day.

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