IT was a weekend to remember as Wearsiders came out in their thousands to welcome the Olympic Torch.
Defying the rain and lining the city’s streets, the crowds cheered the iconic torch as it made its way through the city during a historic 48-hours.
Herrington Country Park played host to a spectacular day of live music, food and activities on Saturday as the flame passed under the shadow of Penshaw Monument.
Events got underway at 8.30am on Saturday when hundreds of villagers lined the streets of Whitburn as the torch was carried towards Sunderland.
Following the noise of the cheerleading party buses and high-fiving. motorbike-riding police officers, the figure of 13-year-old Mia Rathband came into view.
Standing in as torchbearer for her father, Pc David Rathband, she made her way slowly down the road, blindfolded in his honour.
A huge cheer awaited her as she removed the blindfold and passed the flame on to Stephen Betts.
A live band at Latimers Seafood Deli played as the torch headed along the Seaburn coast to cheers.
Before heading over the Wearmouth Bridge, the flame made a stop off at the Aquatic Centre where Sunderland University chancellor, and former Olympian, Steve Cram, carried it across the pool, providing one of the day’s lasting images.
After passing up Fawcett Street and Mowbray Park, the torch was carried up Chester Road. Residents had decorated their homes and shop workers stepped out for a peek. Pavement space was at a premium and the show of support did not go unnoticed.
Torchbearer Kaye Dixon ran along a section of the road and was blown away by the number of people out to see the show.
“It was amazing, unreal,” she said. “It was just packed, I didn’t think there would have been that many.
It means a lot to me. You don’t do the fundraising to be recognised but it’s nice when it happens.”
There was a short break for the torch as it was driven to Herrington Country Park, where the party was just getting started.
True to form for summer in Sunderland, the park was awash with mud. But nobody cared. Children jumped in the puddles, are candyfloss and danced in the rain.
Councillor John Kelly paid tribute to people’s determination to have fun.
He said: “Turnout along the route has been fantastic and we had one of the moments of the relay when Steve Cram crossed the pool at the Aquatic Centre.”
Police estimated around 8,000 people had come out to enjoy the fun and they provided an unforgettable welcome to 15-year-old Amy Lyall as she approached with the iconic flame.
Amy said: “It was just great. Words can’t describe how it felt”
Presenters from BBC children’s show Blue Peter got the crowd warmed up, before the inimitable Kriss Akabusi ramped the noise up even further.
Unfortunately, the energy generated by the presence of the torch and a former Olympic sprinter was not enough to help Sunderland land a spot in the record books, as the simultaneous hula-hoop world record attempt came up just short.
Despite the disappointment, people continued to enjoy themselves, long after the torch had left the park, bound for Durham, with live music and a festival of food.
Kriss Akabusi personified that spirit of fun and said: “It might be wet outside but inside everyone here, there’s passion and energy.
“That flame that’s been lit signals all that is good about human endeavour. Today is about Sunderland saying ‘we’re part of the Olympic spirit’.”
Keeping out of the mud as best he could in EDF’s own marquee was Gareth Wynn, the energy company’s 2012 director. Having played a key part in bringing the relay to Sunderland, he was more than happy with how the day had gone.
He said: “I’ve been delighted, it’s all gone fantastically well.”
Torchbearer Luke McGill, 18, said: “It was fantastic, a great experience, great atmosphere. It’s brilliant knowing you’ve got the Olympic torch in your hand and everyone’s watching you.
“Just seeing everyone in Sunderland happy was fantastic.”