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‘Old Unfaithful’ delays torch

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK ? Old Faithful doesn't erupt on cue for anyone or anything, not even the Olympic flame.

The plan was for torch carrier Andy Mitchell to pass the flame to fellow National Park Service worker Bob Seibert as the famous geyser blew at its projected 12:35 p.m. time Sunday.

Didn't happen.

Mitchell stood torch in hand for five minutes. Nothing.

Another five minutes passed. Falling snow started to pile up on his white 2002 Winter Games beanie. Then almost 10 more minutes went by. Finally, at 12:54 p.m. ? after three torches had burned out ? the boiling water spewed skyward, getting lost in a swirl of steam and snowflakes.

Mitchell ignited Seibert's torch, and he was off to light the caldron in front of the Old Faithful Inn.

"Old Unfaithful," lamented Debby Young, another Park Service torch runner.

The scene in the billowy snow-covered park was both thrilling and disappointing.

"I was hoping that the geyser would cooperate a little more," said Springville resident Sharon Ewing, who spent more than a half-hour kneeling to snap a photo.

"She has great Olympic spirit," said her husband, Mike Ewing, who along with Paul and Vicki Wheeler concluded their weekend getaway to West Yellowstone by riding snowmobiles into the park to see the torch. "She wanted to do it."

Day 53 of the Olympic torch relay proved a long white one filled with sometimes driving snow from sunup to sundown. The relay continued to Bozeman, Mont., and will conclude its Big Sky swing Monday night in Billings.

Participants and spectators Sunday motored 30 bumpy, wind-blown miles into Yellowstone from West Yellowstone, Mont., either in snowcoaches (90 minutes) or on snowmobiles (60 minutes). Snow-encrusted bison and elk roamed the roadside, foraging on the banks of steaming thermal rivers.

"I definitely felt like we were running for the Winter Olympics," said torchbearer Davina Anderson, a Missoula mother of two and one on the way. "It was quite the trek."

Huel Scherrer, his wife, Judy Easley, and their two children gave up a day of their ski vacation to venture into the park for the event.

"It seemed like the symbolic, patriotic thing to do since we were here," Easley said.

And being from Minnesota ? one of four torchless states on the cross country relay ? they had a chance to see the flame in person.

"Our governor did have something to say about that," Scherrer quipped about Gov. Jesse Ventura's grousing that the route didn't pass through his state.

Musher Janet Whitesell started the relay in West Yellowstone with her dog sled pulled by four Alaskan and two Siberian huskies. Though she missed a major dog race Sunday, the Three Forks, Mont., woman wasn't complaining.

"I think this is wonderful," she said.

Almost the entire town turned out, lining the snowy streets with dozens of snowmobiles to cheer on the musher and runners. A few wore buffalo heads made from cardboard boxes to protest what they said was senseless killing of the animals in the park.

Jim Roscoe, of Dillon, Mont., carried the flame for a grandson who died of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, four years ago. His daughter, Shay Petritz, nominated him to Olympic organizers because he helped her get through the tough time.

"I wanted to say thanks for everything he'd done and give him something special," she said.

Seibert, a park ranger, found something special after the long wait for Old Faithful. Jogging with the flame, he said, gave him a feeling he didn't expect, "like up a level or two."

"It was real. It really was."

E-MAIL: romboy@desnews.com