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Tale Of The Torchbearer

Tale Of The Torchbearer

Turin, Italy: Vladimir Prikuptes brought his own Olympic torch to the Winter Games.

Prikupets, a 74-year-old native of Odessa who immigrated to San Francisco in 1975, for the past two weeks here has shlepped in a navy blue pouch a curving, polished silver torch he had bought after serving as a torchbearer before the Athens Olympics in 2004. He held it up, unlit, during the opening ceremonies here as his personal, silent statement in memory of the victims of persecution.

"It shows that I’m against anti-Semitism, terrorism, banditism," said Prikupets, who has attended the Games a dozen times.Stocky with white hair, he tooled around Turin in a bright red Torino 2006 warmup jacket and stocking cap, both bedecked with small pins of the participating nations.

Working as photographer for a San Francisco Russian-language newspaper, he came with no organization backing his memorial effort and stayed in "a cheap hotel."

Prikupets has bought three Olympic torches at costs ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, an option open to participants in the torchbearing relay that precedes the lighting of the towering torch of the Olympic Stadium each Olympic year.

Each of his torches is inscribed in memory of the Six Million, of the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, and of the Jews still in the Soviet Union.

Prikupets showed off the artifact, about 2 feet long, wherever he went, distributing a photocopy of a newspaper article about his unique obsession. Passers-by seemed intrigued.

"People are very postive," he said, adding that many identify themselves as Jewish.

His motivation?

"I am Jew," he said. "I survived World War II and the Soviet Union for 40, 50 years."

A retired civil engineer and expert sports photographer, Prikupets says he spends his time traveling, including three visits to Israel, and is active in the San Francisco Jewish community.

On one two-week trip to Europe he made pilgrimages to the sites of 10 concentration camps and two wartime ghettos. His family, he says, did not lose any members in the Holocaust.

Prikupets adds, however, "Six million of my relatives passed away there."

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