As the 2012 Games approach ever so closer, the one burning question is: Who will light the Olympic cauldron? I feel a bit like a Catholic waiting for the white smoke to come out of the Sistine Chapel’s window, but instead I’m anxiously anticipating the final hand-off of the Olympic torch !
Details of producer Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony production indicate a festive celebration incorporating England’s rich traditions and cultural contributions. After the procession of athletes, the dazzling entertainment, and the raising of the Olympic flag, we’ll finally have that question answered.
In addition to asking who will light the cauldron, we also want to know how the cauldron will be lit. Will it be a dramatic gesture like that of the 1992 Olympics by archer Antonio Robollo? Will it incorporate water as was done at the 2004 Games in Sydney? Or will it incorporate more theatrics, such as Li-Ning did in 2008, suspended from a wire? I recently watched the video from 2008. It still gives me chills. It’s not so much the Games being declared officially open that makes the spine tingle. It’s hearing the dramatic music, witnessing an accomplished athlete awarded the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron! It’s seeing the giant orange flames burst forth from the cauldron, swirling, competing with each other to climb taller, burn brighter. I’m reminded of the fire from within; the fire that makes my heart burn for these Games; the fire that burns within each athlete; keeping alive the ideals first set forth by the Ancient Greeks, and revived again by those like Pierre de Coubertin and Dr. William Penny Brookes. It’s this symbolic activity which makes me pump my fist and yell from my sofa, “Let the Games Begin!”
There is some speculation that an athlete won’t light the cauldron at all, but that instead a non-athlete will light the cauldron. I hate this idea. It’s been done in the past: At the 1976 Games in Montreal, two teenagers–one English speaking and one French speaking–lit the cauldron together. (Symbolizing the desired unity in Canada.) The 1988 and 1992 Winter Games selected children to light the cauldrons, representing hope, innocence, and the future.
I want it to be an athlete. In 1952 the Finnish people cheered with pride as their national hero Paavo Nurmi lit the cauldron. So did we Americans when Muhammed-Ali lit the 1996 cauldron with the same penetrating focus that he did as a boxer.
So here are the front-runners:
- Sebastian Coe is not only a distinguished Olympian (two gold medals and two silver medals at the 1980 and 1984 Games), but the leader who helped make London’s hosting of the Games a reality. The former middle-distance runner set numerous world records, served in Parliament, and chaired a special ethics committee for FIFA. Many credit him with swaying IOC voters to award London the 2012 Games, and he is the Chairman of the 2012 London Organizing Committee. But because of this latter responsibility, he most likely has eliminated himself from the running.
- Steven Redgraveis another rumored possibility. Between 1984 and 2000 the Olympic rower won five gold medals and one bronze! He even was a member of Great Britain’s 1989-1990 bobsled team! He’s also a Chelsea fan, which earns an extra vote from me.
- Kelly Holmes, a middle distance runner who won two gold in 2004 and a bronze in 2000, is another possible candidate. The British Army veteran and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire won the respect and admiration of many. But is her medal count and young age enough to qualify her? I don’t think so. I’d pick her to help carry the Olympic Flag into the stadium.
- Daley Thompson is apparently Sebastian Coe’s favorite. Thompson won back-to-back decathlon gold in 1980 and 1984, also setting world records during his career. He is considered by many to be one of the top two greatest athletes Britain has ever produced.
- Dorothy Tyler-Odam is one of my favorites. I’d love to see an Olympian who competed in 1936 and 1948 be given her proper adulation once more. This 92 year-old former high jumper competed and medaled at Hitler’s Games, medaling again in 1948 when England hosted the first post-War Olympics, having fended off a Nazi invasion. She is a true symbol of England’s history, its resilience, and determination.
- Roger Bannister didn’t medal at the 1952 Olympics, but his post-Olympic achievements are quite respectable. The 83 year-old was 25 years of age when in 1954 he became the first athlete to run the four-minute mile. In the 1970′s he would chair the British Sports Council, which was the first to require testing for steroids.
My vote is a tie between Dorothy Tyler-Odam and Steven Redgrave. I’d be happy with Thompson bring it into Olympic Stadium, hand it off to Sebastian Coe, who passes to Steven Redgrave, who then gives it to Bannister, and Bannister to Tyler-Odam. It’s almost an accurate progression of young to old. Or do something like this in reverse–old to young, with Redgrave lighting the cauldron. But honestly, I’ll still be happy with who ever lights the cauldron, because it’s the Olympics and it will still be fantastic!
Faster, Higher, Stronger.