BY Ian Pocock
Should it be Daley or Seb or Steve or perhaps Mary or Kelly?
The airwaves continue to ring with the debate of pundits – who should light the Olympic Flame when the London Olympics get underway?
On one level, it is unsurprising that the arguments have so far focused on our greatest Olympians.
However this is to miss the point of the Opening Ceremony and fail to grasp the most important promotion opportunity for a generation.
The Olympic Games is the not called the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ for nothing. An event underpinned by symbolism that turns great sporting achievement into the iconic.
Jesse Owen's four athletics gold medals in Berlin in 1936 was remarkable in itself – the fact no athlete repeated it until Carl Lewis in 1984 is testament to that. But it was winning them in the heart of Nazi Germany, at what Hitler hoped would be an Olympics to demonstrate Aryan Supremacy, that made it all the more poignant.
Symbolism runs deep at the Olympics.
Derek Redmond’s torn hamstring in Barcelona and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ “Black Power” salute in Mexico are as much part of history as Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10, Steve Redgrave’s five gold medals or Michael Phelps’ eight in one Games.
The Opening Ceremony is pure theatre. It is not a show for the 100,000 people who gather in the stadium, it is for a global television audience.
For many countries it is a launch ceremony, the first time that people around the world will be introduced to it.
However it is the lighting of the flame that is most significant. 12 years ago, Sydney was awash with anticipation over who would carry the torch those final steps.
And like so much of those Games, they didn’t miss beat.
As the torch entered the stadium, Olympic legend after Olympic legend jogged their few metres before it finally reach Cathy Freeman (pictured above), at which point the crescendo of noise engulfed Australia from Perth to Sydney, from Adelaide to Darwin.
It wasn’t just about a home favourite for a gold medal. This was the moment Australia introduced itself to a global audience and they chose a 27-year-old Aboriginal woman, who bore the hopes of that sports mad country into those Olympics.
Had they selected Dawn Fraser, a four-time Olympic Champion in the 100 meters freestyle and one of only two swimmers to win the same event three times, it would have been commended, deserved and celebrated to the rafters.
But it was the selection of Freeman for everything she was then, and everything she embodied, that made the moment. It was the boldest of statements by the organising committee.
Only a few years earlier, Freeman had found herself at the centre of a media storm when she carried the Aboriginal flag and the Australian national flag on her lap of honour at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
But at that moment, she was Australia’s heroine and the lighting of the flame had taken on the most poignant symbolism for the nation.
It was a similar story four years earlier when “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali stood before the world, battling the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease to light Atlanta’s Olympic Flame.
Ali famously threw the gold medal won at those 1960 Games into the Ohio River. However, Ali had long represented much more than his sport – the fighter from Louisville, born in the segregated south, who used his sporting genius to transcend barriers.
The Opening Ceremony, and the moment the Flame is lit, sets the tone for all that is to come over the next 17 days.
Who will ever forget the Chinese gymnast, Li Ning, flying on the wire high above the Birds Nest in Beijing or Antonio Rebollo, the Paralympic archer, lighting the Barcelona flame?
In a few days all eyes will be on London. An iconic city that deserves a truly iconic moment.