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Memorable photo passed on to torchbearer

Georgetown man remembers run through town with Olympic symbol
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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Does George Neill remember carrying the Olympic torch 50 years ago? “Oh yeah!” Neill exclaimed, laughing. Neill was 17 years old when then-Auburn Mayor Jim Jacobs passed the Placer High School track runner the famed torch. Neill said he remembers holding the symbol of the Olympics and running slowly down his mile stretch of Downtown Auburn. “They wanted me not to run fast but to run slow so more people could see it,” Neill recalled this week. Neill, who was Placer’s top distance runner at the time, said his 15 minutes of fame began as soon as he handed off the torch to the next runner. “People wanted my autograph and wanted their picture taken with me,” Neill said. That night, Neill said he also received a phone call from then-state Assemblyman Ronald Cameron. The Journal received several phone calls and e-mails from Auburn-area residents and Placer High graduates who quickly identified Neill from a photo that ran on the front page Feb. 14. The cutline identified Jim Jacobs’ son, Jay, who brought in the black and white photos of his dad passing the torch to an “unknown” runner. Placer High grad Kathleen Tall, whose maiden name was Hawke, said she instantly recognized Neill. Tall graduated that year and said she remembers school was closed for a week so students could attend the Olympics, which were held at Squaw Valley in 1960. “It was very exciting,” Tall said. “The whole town was excited.” Jay Jacobs said he was “thrilled” to meet the runner whose identity he never knew until Wednesday. “I’ve had that picture for 30, 40, 50 years now and I finally got to meet the runner,” Jay Jacobs said. Jay Jacobs said up to 10 people called after the Journal’s article was published to let him know the runner was Neill. On Wednesday, Neill, who now lives in Georgetown, brought along a newspaper clipping of the day he ran with the torch. It was his only souvenir of his “15 minutes of fame” until Jay Jacobs gave him a CD with a copy of his own photo. “When you’re running with the flame, you’re the only one in the whole world that’s got it,” Jay Jacobs said. “That’s just a big deal, I think.” Neill said it was not only a great moment to carry the torch, but to be the one to take it through Downtown. “It was a special honor to be able to be the one to bring it into Auburn,” Neill said. Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.