london games

Dos and Don’ts for the Olympic Cauldron Lighting Ceremony

In this handout image provided by LOCOG, Torchbearer 009 Mark Levy holds the Flame in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace during the final day on July 27, 2012 in London, England.
The Olympic torch, en route to London.

Later today, the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics will take place. Amid all sorts of pageantry, spectators will gather to watch the presentation of all the participants, the bearing and waving of flags, and the main event: the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. The lighting of the cauldron is an homage to the ancient games in Olympia, Greece, and was established at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. The current practice of actually igniting the flame in Olympia at the Temple of Hera, then touring it around for several months before arriving at the host city for the opening ceremony was actually introduced by the Nazis for the 1936 Games in Berlin. Pretty cool idea, Nazis. Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut.

So, the torch has been en route to London since being lit on May 10. It’s traveled all around the United Kingdom (with heavy security and backup torches from the original source, because dousing happens) to its final destination in the cauldron today. Exactly who will light the cauldron remains to be seen. London officials have done an impressive job of keeping the final torch bearer’s identity a secret, though the safe money (and people are actually betting on this) is on Roger Bannister. (Does it have to be an athlete? If note, my vote’s for Mark Morrison). The mechanics of the ignition are also a mystery, but we’ve got a quick list of dos and don’ts based on the varied success of past opening ceremonies.

DO: Incorporate an actual Olympic event into the lighting. Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo launching a fiery arrow into the cauldron (over it, actually, but it still got the job done) was by far the most badass iteration of the event.

DON’T: Pick too complex of an event. The Lillehammer ski jump in 1994 appears to have gone without mishap, but it was still terrifying. It’s FIRE, guys. Be careful! No pole vaulting or wrestling with the flame, please. (Andy Murray serving a flaming tennis ball into the cauldron, on the other hand … )

DON’T: Just have somebody dip the torch in the cauldron. It’s too easy, and it’s played out. Or if you’re gonna do that, at least let a basketball player dunk it. Joel Freeland, perhaps?

DO: Set up a Rube Goldberg apparatus so the cauldron can be lit from afar. It’s safer and it looks awesome. (See: Los Angeles 1984, Albertville 1992, Beijing 2008)

DO: Incorporate Muhammad Ali. That was great.

DON’T: Incorporate birds. Birds don’t quite grasp how fire works and are more than willing to become roasted birds if you let them. (See Barcelona 1992, and I’m not sure that all these birds in Moscow in 1980 made it out alive.)

DO: Employ hydraulic/moving elements. The giant, rotating olive leaf in Athens in 2004 was pretty neat.

DON’T: Make said hydraulic/moving elements too complicated. Then your giant raining, flaming spaceship might hover in place for a bit longer than you wanted. (Also see the impotent pillar in Vancouver in 2010).

We’ll see who and what London has in store for us later today. Be creative, but be careful, y’all. It’s fire.

Dos and Don’ts for the Olympic Cauldron Lighting