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Idahoans cheer Oly fire as it dances oh so close

Tribes offer chants, smoke to bless Games

SHARE Idahoans cheer Oly fire as it dances oh so close

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho —— The Olympic flame — already in the Gem state to the north — will dance tantalizingly close to Utah over the next week.

The torch relay has a serpentine course mapped out through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming — including a jaunt into Yellowstone National Park today — and Colorado before launching its final leg to Salt Lake City on Feb. 4 from Arches National Park.

With less than 2,500 miles to go until the fire meets the icicle caldron rising above Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium at the University of Utah, relay organizers say the nationwide event is reaching a climax .

"It keeps building. Every city we go to it gets bigger and bigger," said Cheryl Cagle, a torch relay manager. "But we're not home yet."

Idaho seems pretty close, not only in proximity but in spirit. Masses of people lined streets the past few nights to see runners and turned out for torch celebrations.

"There was just such an Olympic spirit," Robin Ratcliff said after her short run in Idaho Falls.

"And the smile never left her face," added her husband John Ratcliff, a retired Navy veteran who will run the flame today.

Aimee Murphy stood with her family for "almost five hours" next to the frozen Snake River for a front-row view of the Saturday evening caldron lighting ceremony that drew an estimated 10,000 fired-up revelers. Was it worth it?

"Yes," she said, enthusiastically hoarse from singing and shouting. "If I have a voice left tomorrow, I will be surprised."

High school seniors Nicole Poulson and Sara Olsen screamed like Beatlemaniacs when the final torchbearer showed up.

"It's not every day the Olympics come so close to Idaho Falls," Poulson said. "Most people don't know where Idaho Falls is."

Nearly 15,000 people turned out in Boise on Friday night to watch Judy Andrews, wife of the first American casualty in Operation Enduring Freedom, light the evening caldron. Her husband, Master Sgt. Evander Earl Andrews, died in October in an accident while helping build a base at Aludeid, Qatar, on the Arabian Peninsula.

Earlier Saturday, drumming, chanting and burning cedar greeted torch carriers at Fort Hall Indian Reservation about five miles north of Pocatello on a cold, windy afternoon. Shoshone-Bannock tribal members plucked the aromatic branches from a Park City hillside on a visit last May.

Tribal leader Hobby Hevewah prayed the "good feeling" created from the smoke — used for blessings to purify the body and mind —will abound during the 2002 Winter Games.

After jogging with the torch around the Trading Post and Clothes Horse parking lot just off I-15, Snookinis Hohena, 68, said it "felt great. An exciting day. Something I'll always remember."

Hohena, a descendent of Sacajawea, was among three Shoshone-Bannocks to handle the torch during its only stop on an Indian reservation on the 11,500-mile journey across the country.

Native Americans also will figure prominently in the celebration at Delicate Arch near Moab one week from Monday to get the fire headed toward its 2002 Winter Games resting place in Salt Lake City.

John Rainey, 45, took the torch after letting the cedar smoke waft over his body as a blessing. Running the quarter-mile stretch nearly brought tears to his eyes.

"It was powerful. I wanted to cry. It's a beautiful experience," he said. And one he didn't want to end. "I wanted to run to Montana."

The torch relay will be in Big Sky country today. First up is Gallatin County, where it will travel a short distance on a dog sled. Then it will pass through West Yellowstone, Mont., en route to nearby Yellowstone National Park. A snowcoach will deliver the flame to Old Faithful and back out of the park before the convoy ends the day in Bozeman.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com