Star sprinter confronts fear of heights for Pan Am stunt
Jul. 12, 2015
TORONTO (AP) — Before carrying the torch around the top of Canada's tallest structure in a gravity-defying sequence, Bruny Surin had to clear a major hurdle: his fear of heights.
The Canadian sprinter had never been inside the CN Tower before he started training for his star turn at the opening ceremony of the Pan Am Games on Friday night.
"When (Cirque du Soleil) first came to me with this idea, I told them they were crazy," he told The Canadian Press.
In his first excursion, a harnessed Surin inched up to the edge under the watchful eyes of Cirque trainers, then cautiously leaned into the abyss.
"I asked them, 'Are you sure?' and they said, 'Yes,'" he recalled Saturday. "I can't remember the last time I had such a rush of adrenaline."
The sequence was filmed in May and by then, Surin had practiced his lap of the tower at least 15 times, he said.
"I'm not scared anymore," he added with a laugh.
In the scene, which kicked off the lavish festivities, Surin hands off the torch to fellow sprinter Donovan Bailey. Bailey's stunt double then base-jumps off the more than 1,800-foot structure.
While fans were left to wonder Friday night just who exactly made the jump, organizers confirmed Saturday morning that it was a stunt double, not Bailey, who performed the daring leap.
But even Bailey himself was still playing coy on Saturday, dodging the question when asked by CBC if he really jumped off the tower.
"I seem to be having these boxes on my bucket list, I'm ticking them off as I go," he said wryly during an interview with the network, which broadcast the ceremony on Friday.
Organizers said one of the challenges of planning the video — which began with members of Canada's gold medal-winning 4x100-meter relay team from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics running the torch around Toronto — was keeping it under wraps.
Saad Rafi, the head of the organizing committee, said when people caught glimpses of the crew during the filming or saw smoke coming from the Toronto landmark on the eve of the ceremony, the strategy was simple: deny, deny, deny.
A dress rehearsal that included pyrotechnics had some wondering if the tower was on fire, he said. Others spotted the relay team in the streets before the torch relay began.
Only three people had seen the video before Friday, and only five knew the ceremony from beginning to end. Surin also was sworn to secrecy. For months, friends asked if he was taking part in the ceremony.
When he ran into a friend at the airport while accompanied by a Cirque official, Surin said he was in town for a panel discussion. On Friday, he changed his approach. He told friends to tune in to the ceremony without saying why.