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Burning question: Who will light Olympic cauldron?

By Stephen Wilson

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 27 2012 3:50 a.m. MST

FILE - This is a Friday, July 19, 1996 file photo of Muhammad Ali, watched by U.S. swimmer Janet Evans, as lights the Olympic flame during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony in Atlanta. Who will or who should light the cauldron for the London Games? With six months to go until the opening ceremony, British bookmakers are taking floods of bets on the issue, while fans, athletes, media and the public at large are speculating on who will get the honor. Five-time rowing gold medalist Steve Redgrave is the big favorite with the bookies.

Michael Probst, Associated Press

LONDON — It's the burning question of the London Olympics.

Who will — or should — light the cauldron for the 2012 Games?

With six months to go until the opening ceremony, British bookmakers are taking floods of bets on the issue, while fans, athletes, media and the public at large are speculating on who will get the honor.

Five-time rowing gold medalist Steve Redgrave is the big favorite with the bookies, with British Olympians Kelly Holmes, Daley Thompson and Tom Daley also in the mix. Football icon David Beckham, 4-minute miler Roger Bannister, middle-distance great Sebastian Coe and even Queen Elizabeth II are among other names being mentioned.

The identity of the final torchbearer is always meant to be a closely guarded secret, so the uncertainty will go on right up until the flame is ignited on the evening of July 27.

Picture the scene:

The 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium is packed for the ceremony masterminded by Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director of "Slumdog Millionaire." Billions of people around the world are watching on television.

Thousands of athletes from more than 200 countries have marched into the stadium. Queen Elizabeth II has declared the games open. The Olympic anthem has been played and the Olympic flag raised.

The Olympic torch, which has been taken by boat down the River Thames to the Olympic Park, is carried into the stadium by the last group of relay runners.

Finally, someone — who? — takes the torch and lights the cauldron that will burn for the next 17 days.

In a tradition that started with the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the transfer of the flame to the cauldron symbolizes the start of the games and often stands out as the defining moment of the opening ceremony.

"Depending on how they set it up and who it is in the end, it can be great," senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound of Canada said. "For London, it should be somebody who in his or her own way defines Britain and sporting traditions."

The flame will arrive in Britain from Greece on May 19, heralding the start of a 70-day, 8,000-mile relay across the U.K. that will culminate with the ceremony in London.

Coe, chairman of the 2012 organizing committee, said no decisions have yet been made about the lighting.

"It will be decided by, almost certainly our creative teams, and there'll be discussions but we're not anywhere near," he said Thursday. "I can tell you we haven't even begun to get to that granularity of detail."

Some lightings are more memorable than others.

"It's always a dramatic moment and yet most people don't remember who lit the cauldron in 2008," Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said. "They may remember Muhammad Ali, but often it's of minor significance in the long run."

As London approaches, it's worth a look back at some cauldron-lighting moments of previous games.

—Who can forget Ali, trembling from Parkinson's, holding the torch aloft in his right hand for several breathtaking seconds before lighting the flame for the 1996 Atlanta Games?

—Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo fired a flaming arrow high into the night sky to ignite the flame at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

—Cathy Freeman — a powerful symbol of Australia's Aboriginal people — did the honors at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Eleven nights later, she won the 400 meters, the only person to light the cauldron and win a gold medal at the same games.

—Members of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. Olympic hockey team lit the flame together at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

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