'Solution' reached on cauldron lighter

LONDON -- The decision-makers finally have an answer to the question of who will light the Olympic cauldron at Friday's opening ceremony.

Steve Redgrave? Daley Thompson? Kelly Holmes? Roger Bannister?

Don't ask, because they're not saying.

"There is a mutually agreeable solution," British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Hunt said Saturday. "A good solution to the outcome."

Hunt and London organizing committee counterpart Paul Deighton were tasked with choosing the final torchbearer and protecting that person's identity until the eyes of a billion-plus people are on the Olympic Stadium. Hunt said they were both involved in the meetings, as well as some others.

"It's a joint decision," Hunt said. "Discussions have taken place over quite some time."

One of the others involved is Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. The man overseeing the opening ceremony has already clashed with TV producers, but Hunt said there were no tensions over the iconic moment of the games curtain-raiser.

"The ceremonies committee, which is made up of Danny Boyle, ... has made recommendations," Hunt said during a briefing at the Olympic Park. "And we can choose to support, or not to support, the recommendations."

And who might those recommendations be? Hunt isn't saying.

Redgrave, a five-time rowing gold medalist, is the favorite with the bookmakers to light the flame. If he knows, he's certainly playing coy.

"I'm working with the BBC on that night and I haven't had any other phone calls that have come through," Redgrave told The Associated Press this week. "If I was needed I'm sure the BBC would release me to do something. Danny Boyle is in charge of the opening ceremony and he'll have a lot to say in what happens in the drama of that and I'm expecting to be a lot of drama involved in the whole opening ceremony.

"I hope I'm involved in some ways. It would be nice to be involved, but there's a lot of great sports athletes out there that equally deserve to be involved."

Such as Thompson, the decathlon champion at the 1980 and 1984 Games.

Thompson sees Redgrave as his Olympic inferior due to his lack of track credentials. Instead, Thompson modestly ranks himself alongside Sebastian Coe, a two-time Olympic champion in the 1,500 meters who is now the head of the London organizing committee.

"Sebastian Coe is the second greatest Olympian, after myself," Thompson told British media earlier this week. "Steve Redgrave is not in the same class as Seb Coe. He is a rower, but I think track and field is the toughest sport in the Olympics, which means the rewards are greater."

Olympics minister Hugh Robertson is out of the decision-making loop, but Coe or Redgrave would be his cauldron choice.

"It is the most closely guarded secret in the book. There is a tiny community of three or four people who are doing this," he said. "Personally, I would love to see Seb do it because I think he has contributed more to the Olympic movement than anybody else in this country.

"If, on the other hand, you judge it on athletic terms you can't do any better than Sir Steve Redgrave with more gold medals than anybody else."

Other contenders to ignite the cauldron are Holmes, who won a middle-distance double at the 2004 Athens Games, and Bannister, the first runner to break the 4-minute barrier for the mile in 1954.

But could more than one person complete the final, most prestigious leg of the 8,000-mile (12,900-kilometer) relay around Britain?

Pairing a sporting great with a youngster from the downtrodden east London area the games is helping to transform would reinforce the legacy message at the heart of the winning bid in 2005. It would also mesh with the "Inspire a generation" slogan of the games.

Asked how they will combine providing drama with recognizing sporting achievement, Hunt responded: "I think it will be a 'wow' moment and bring together both of those dimensions."

There is pressure to exceed the theatrics at recent opening ceremonies and provide images remembered long after the closing ceremony on Aug. 12.

An archer launched a flaming arrow at the cauldron in Barcelona in 1992. Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, held the torch high and bent over to light a wire that led to the 1996 cauldron in Atlanta. Cathy Freeman lit a ring of fire in a pool of water four years later in Sydney.

But there is another enduring, crucial secret about the cauldron.

Just where will it be?

There appears to be no space within the enclosed 486 million pound ($759 million) stadium bowl. There is, however, a perfect spot on top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower, a red sculpture of twisted steel next to the stadium.

But, like with the identity of the final torchbearer, organizers are keeping the mystery going. For another few days, at least.


Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris