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Here’s how to put light in caldron

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In case you missed it — which is practically impossible if you drive by Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium — the Olympic caldron is unveiled and ready for a flame. The caldron is 117 feet long, which means if you laid it down on the football field it would be the equivalent of a 39-yard field goal.

The caldron's arrival was meant to be suspenseful, but caldrons are caldrons, no matter how big they get, and the real suspense is reserved for the lighting.

Who will it be? How will it be done?

There is no manual about how a host city should light the caldron. Some places do it low-key — such as Berlin in 1936 when an unidentified runner carried the final torch to the caldron. Some places do it traditionally — such as Los Angeles in 1984 when 1960 gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson was the final torchbearer. Some places do it dramatically — such as Atlanta in 1996 with Muhammad Ali.

Still other places go for creativity — such as Barcelona in 1992 when an archer shot a lighted arrow over the caldron and Lillehammer in 1994 when a ski jumper carried the torch.

And then there was Sydney in 2000, which went for creativity, drama and tradition when Aboriginal Olympic runner Cathy Freeman was hoisted up a lift to the caldron. Some people credit Freeman with igniting the best Games in history, even if the lift didn't work at first.


No one has asked for my opinion as to how Salt Lake should light its caldron on Feb. 8, but of course I have one.

I would start with an entrance into Olympic Stadium by Utah native and 2000 basketball gold medalist Natalie Williams, who would jog a few steps and hand off to 1992 gold medalist John Stockton and then it would be . . . Stockton-to-Malone.

A lot of people are down on Karl Malone, a double gold medalist, for saying he wouldn't carry the torch in the desert. But walk down a street in, say, Beijing or Munich or the Canary Islands and say "Utah" and you know you'll hear in reply "Karl Malone." Around the world, more people know the Mailman than they know Delicate Arch.

So take the high road and give the torch to a genuine Utah synonym, who will hand off to Corey Engen, the last of the pioneering Engen brothers who brought skiing to Utah and the West. Engen, towing along the spirit of brothers Alf and Sverre, will hand off to fellow Norwegian Stein Eriksen, 1952 gold medalist and Utah's adopted ambassador of skiing.

Now that basketball, Utah's most popular sport, and its immigrant roots have been symbolized, the torch goes through the hands of selected Utah summer Olympians, including Denise Parker, L. Jay Sylvester, Blaine Lindgren and, finally, Henry Marsh, whose virus-fueled fourth-place finish in L.A. ranks as Utah's most inspirational Olympic moment.

Now the torch goes into the hands of Dan Jansen, whose speedskating gold medal in 1994 ranks as America's most inspirational Winter Olympic moment.

And just when you think Jansen is the final torchbearer, out of the shadows emerges America's own Picabo Street, a full-blooded gold medalist, part-blooded American Indian, daughter of Idaho, and 2002 Olympian.

Picabo hops onto a ski lift — commemorating the world's first ski lift at her hometown resort of Sun Valley, as well as the world's second lift at our own Alta — which raises her up 117 feet to light the caldron.

After that, let the Games begin.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.