Torch and go
Best guesses on who will be tapped to light the cauldron
Posted: Thursday February 07, 2002 5:18 PM
SALT LAKE CITY -- Who will light the torch in the Opening Ceremony on Friday? Salt Lake Organizing Committee chief Mitt Romney has said for some time that he chose the person or persons a while ago but wasn't planning to inform the designee(s) until shortly before the festivities begin.
Don't expect Rudy Giuliani or someone associated with the Sept. 11 disaster to be the pick. The IOC and SLOC already wrestled over using the Ground Zero flag as a way to honor the victims of the tragedy without making the honor into an exclusively American moment.
The identity of the final torchbearer at any Olympics is always a closely guarded secret. At the last few Games, the cauldron lighter has been someone with both outstanding athletic credentials and socially meaningful cachet. There isn't anyone out there right now who would fulfill both criteria like Muhammad Ali did in Atlanta or Cathy Freeman in Sydney. Here are some of the possibilities for Friday's ceremony.
The 1980 U.S. hockey team and the Miracle on Ice game present three options. Many feel it would be impossible to ignore an accomplishment voted by some, including Sports Illustrated, as the greatest sports moment of the 20th century. Some variations on a theme are:
Mike Eruzione and Boris Mikhailov: Romney has spoken often about international sensitivities in planning these ceremonies. Eruzione and Mikhailov were the captains of their respective teams during the height of the Cold War. President Jimmy Carter already had announced that U.S. teams would be boycotting the subsequent Summer Olympics in Moscow because Soviet troops were in Afghanistan. If Mikhailov joined Eruzione, it would be the first time a person who wasn't from the host nation would light an Olympic cauldron.
Eruzione, Bill Cleary and Cammi Granato: This trio features the stars from the three U.S. hockey teams to win Olympic gold. Cleary's team also had a thrilling, oft-overlooked victory against the Soviet Union on its road to gold at the 1960 Squaw Valley Games. Eruzione scored the game-winner against the Soviets in the famed Miracle on Ice game, which the U.S. took 4-3. Granato was the leading scorer on the U.S. women's team that toppled Canada in the final four years ago in Nagano.
The 1980 team: At recent Games we've watched the cauldron lit by an archer's arrow and a flying ski jumper, so having 20 guys transfer the flame in unison shouldn't be too much of an engineering feat. The 1980 team appeared en masse at the NHL All-Star Game last weekend in Los Angeles and most are already here in town. If Mark Pavelich can be lured away from his fishing rod, this would be a patriotic choice.
Of course, if you skip over the 1980 team, there are other choices:
Bonnie Blair: She isn't lively, outspoken or controversial, but she is the greatest Winter Olympians in U.S. history. Blair won five gold medals and one bronze from 1988 through '94 and is probably the greatest sprinter in the history of speed skating. She could potentially have been paired with Eric Heiden, winner of five golds at Lake Placid, if he hadn't already spilled the beans about not having been chosen for the honor. Heiden is in Salt Lake City, however, as team doctor for U.S. Speedskating.
Bill Johnson: The 1984 downhill champ nearly died March 22 in a horrific crash during the midst of a comeback attempt. These days, he is in financial difficulties and has lost some of his physical and mental faculties. Fans still admire the bad boy of the slopes; Johnson received an outpouring of support after his accident.
Picabo Street: Street angered many within the U.S. delegation when she actively campaigned for the designation of U.S. flag bearer. Since short-track speed skater Amy Peterson will carry the flag and skeleton athlete Jim Shea will recite the oath, Street, a Park City, Utah, resident and Olympic Super G champ, would be available for the honor. She is a longshot at best.
Figure skaters: Yes, another group entry. Figure skating traditionally has been the U.S.'s strongest sport at the Winter Olympics. Romney could always combine the forces of Dick Button, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, Tenley Albright, Carol Heiss, Peggy Fleming and others in a sort of relay. Word is part of the path leading to the cauldron is made of ice, so the grand entrance likely will be on skates.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Brian Cazeneuve is in Utah covering the Games for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly to read his behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.