Alan Hubbard: The London 2012 Olympic Cauldron lighter is likely to be young, black and probably female
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
But as it is passed from hand to hand by the 8,000 Torchbearers on its joyous journey the burning question – apart from whether the iconic torches, morally, should be a saleable commodity – is who will actually light the Cauldron in the Olympic Stadium on the night of the Opening Ceremony.
I have long held the theory that it won't be an illustrious name, more like an unknown. But of one thing I am reasonably certain: the fist that grips the final gold-coloured torch and dips it towards the Cauldron – if that is the orthodox way they intend to do it – will be young, black and probably female to fit in with 2012's avowed commitment to youth, equality and cultural diversity.
But whether it is actually to be an old Olympic Flame like Sir Steve Redgrave (pictured above), Dame Kelly Holmes or Daley Thompson, or a teenage athlete plucked from 2012's own Olympic heartland in East London, is in the hands of an independent panel in collaboration with London 2012, the British Olympic Association (BOA) and the Opening Ceremony's production overlord, film producer Danny Boyle.
I suspect the decision has already been made, but remains a closely-guarded secret.
I know who Lord Coe thinks it should be – and that is Daley Thompson – but he insists he has no vote and will not influence the decision in any way.
Whoever adds the final flourish to London's seven-year journey will have his or her name etched in Olympic history.
Which is another reason why London 2012 may plump for a Cockney kid. It would avoid bruising the egos of those who believe they should be The One, and would be miffed should it go to someone equally celebrated.
Also it would remove the worrying possibility of David Beckham trotting into the Stadium as the front runner.
What is it with London 2012's eternal love affair with "Sir" Becks (pictured above), who astonishingly was given the honour of bringing the Flame to these shores?
Yes, we know his presence and glad-handing was instrumental in helping London win the Games, and he is a decent ambassador for London 2012 because of who he is.
But his actual Olympic association is tenuous and Kelly Holmes is not alone among genuine Olympians in voicing opposition to football's matinee idol playing the starring role on opening night.
"He is a lovely man but he hasn't made his name or been involved in the Olympics," she argues. "This is one occasion that has to involve Olympians. Please don't even think of Beckham."
But up in London 2012's Canary Wharf eyrie some already have, though one hopes they will be outvoted.
Yet even without the Torch Beckham may still play a key part on July 27.
Assuming he is selected for the Team GB football squad – surely a no-brainer with the pressure being put on manager Stuart Pearce – I would not be surprised to see him carrying the Union Jack when teams march into the Stadium.
As it happens the list of candidates for this particular task may be rather slim for several (Rebecca Adlington for one) will be ruled out because their coaches understandably do not want them burning the midnight flame in a late-starting Ceremony set to last into the early hours.
Sir Chris Hoy, Jess Ennis, Victoria Pendleton Tim Brabants and Tom Daley are obvious names in the frame – if available – but my choice would be the 40-year-old archer Alison Williamson (pictured above), who will be competing in her sixth Olympics.
But back to the crucial issue of who will light the Flame. I asked the bookmaker William Hill to quote odds on the following suggestions, from the worthy to the wacky.
Sir Steve Redgrave: Squeaky-clean persona and fistful of gold medals makes the renowned rower a clear the bookies' favourite, though he thinks it unlikely as he has been asked to run a leg on July 10 – 17 days before the Games begin. 1/2 on
Sir Roger Bannister: Also widely-tipped, the first sub-four-minute miler remains an iconic figure at 83 but his achievement came outside the Olympics and may have to light the Flame from a wheelchair. 3/1.
Sebastian Coe: In any other situation he would be a no-brainer, the perfect candidate but as London 2012's head honcho he rules himself out – but might he be persuaded? Especially if he does it in tandem with old rival, Steve Ovett! 8/1
Daley Thompson: Arguably Britain's greatest all-round Olympian whose big admirer is a close friend Lord Coe. Interestingly, unlike Redgrave, he has not been nominated for a preliminary leg. 25/1
Dame Kelly Holmes (pictured below, left): Double gold medallist from Athens 2004 and inspiration for young athletes with whom she works and supports through her own Trust. Could well fit the bill. 10/1
Dorothy Tyler (pictured above, right): At a sprightly 92 she is Britain's oldest surviving Olympic medallist, winning high jump silver at the 1936 Games in Berlin and London 1948. Interesting outside bet. 66/1
David Beckham: With a GB football team competing again, the universally-recognised Becks would be a controversial choice but Coe speaks warmly of his contribution in helping London get the Games. Or could he carry the Team GB flag. 25/1
Kate and/or William: Just the sort of gimmick that the Games organisers might have up their sleeve to draw maximum gasps from a global audience. Otherwise there's always Prince Harry. 100/1
Princess Anne: A more logical royal choice as a former Olympic horsewoman (Montreal 1976), President of the BOA and member of the IOC. 66/1
Dame Mary Peters: Another Coe favourite – heroic pentathlete gold medallist from Munich 1972 who has done much to make sport a unifying force in Northern Ireland. 50/1
Tessa Sanderson: Six times an Olympian and javelin gold medallist in 1984. Now runs her own academy for aspiring youngsters in Newham but has been overlooked in the build-up despite enthusiastically backing the original bid. 50-1
Denise Lewis: The golden girl of Sydney 2000, where she won the heptathlon. Personable and popular with 2012 organisers with whom she has worked closely to promote the Games. 50-1
Boris Johnson (pictured above): Wouldn't we love to see him pedalling in with the Torch on a Boris bike on especially if he then sets own hair alight when lighting the Cauldron. 250/1
Unknown young athlete: That's my hunch, and Sir Steve Redgrave's too. A surprise touch, a kid (or kids) from an ethnic minority in East London who would fit London 2012's philosophy of legacy, youth and multi-culture. No odds available
(William Hill also quotes Tom Daley at 10/1 and Sir Chris Hoy at 16/1, though, as with Beckham, they are more likely to be candidates for flag-bearers as competing Team GB athletes).
So you pay your money and take your choice.
At least we can be reasonably sure the Flame-lighter won't be selling the torch. Unlike many of those now running with it.
Should people profit in this way? I really don't see how London 2012 can complain as they are the orchestrators of the most commercial Games in history. London 2012 certainly admit they are powerless to stop it, indeed how can they when they themselves have sold the Torches to the bearers for just short of £200 ($314/€250) apiece?
As it happens I am the proud possessor of two previous Olympic torches, having run with the Athens torch and that for Beijing. I certainly wouldn't part with them as they are destined as heirlooms for my grandchildren.
But I cannot blame those now cashing in by hawking theirs on EBay or elsewhere.
The Torch Relay, created in 1936 to give Hitler's Nazi regime a makeover, is not a true symbol of ancient Olympia, but a commercial event designed to raise the awareness of sponsors as well as the Games themselves.
The Olympic Games long gave up their amateur status and that surely must apply to both the public as well as the performers.
It also leads to the likes of will.i.am (pictured below) being allowed to carry the Flame. What possible connection does an American hip-hopper have with Olympism?
Except of course being associated with one of the corporate backers, Coca-Cola. But I suppose this is another example of how London 2012 is underscoring its determination to appeal to "yoof".
Let's just hope the Closing Ceremony is not all rap and R&B.
And that the gasps which greet the Flame-lighter will be born of genuine awe and not because of an outrageous gimmick.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire