LONDON — With the finish line fast approaching, Roger Bannister has broken away from the pack and is now the bookmakers' clear front runner to light the Olympic cauldron later Friday.
British bookmaker William Hill has closed the market on Bannister after cutting odds from 6-1 to even money after a surge in betting on the first man to run the mile in less than 4 minutes.
"If he does win, an awful lot of punters will be running ... down to their betting shops to pick up their winnings," William Hill spokesman Richard Thomas said Friday.
The bookmaker said 98 percent of all bets placed with William Hill on Thursday on who will light the flame at the opening ceremony were for Bannister.
Steve Redgrave, Daley Thompson, Kelly Holmes and former England captain David Beckham are also in the running to light the flame.
Until Thursday, it was Redgrave, a five-time Olympic champion, who had always been the favorite to light the cauldron since the market was opened seven years ago, according to William Hill.
Bannister was 33-1 only a few weeks ago.
"It suggests people have an inkling," said Joe Crilly, another William Hill spokesman. "But at the same stage, the IOC and LOCOG (local organizing committee) have kept everything quiet that they wanted to keep quiet."
Rival British bookmaker Ladbrokes was still taking bets on who would light the cauldron and had Bannister and Redgrave as co-favorites at 6-4.
Queen Elizabeth II was 4-1, Beckham was 7-1, and Thompson and Holmes were 10-1. James Bond, or someone playing the role of the fictional British secret agent, was 50-1 with Ladbrokes.
Who lights the cauldron at the opening ceremony and the way it is lit is a closely guarded secret at the Olympics.
At the 1992 Barcelona Games, an archer shot a flaming arrow over the top of the cauldron to light it. Muhammad Ali lit the flame in Atlanta in 1996, while 400-meter runner Cathy Freeman stood in the middle of a pool at the Sydney Games in 2000 as flames surrounded her.
In Beijing four years ago, gymnast Li Ning lit the cauldron while suspended by wires near the roof of the Olympic Stadium.