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Caldron mystery soon to end

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The design of the Olympic caldron won't be a secret much longer.

Sunday, the caldron will be transported to the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium where during opening ceremonies on Feb. 8 it will be lit with the Olympic flame.

And on Tuesday, the wraps will come off at a press conference scheduled by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. That's a big change from past Games, where the caldron was not unveiled until the ceremonies were under way.

Organizers, though, decided it was too tough to keep the giant structure covered. The caldron will be installed atop a 50-foot steel structure already in place on the south end of the stadium. The caldron will reach a height of 130 feet.

"We actually had budgeted as much as $200,000 to conceal the caldron because we felt unveiling it in the ceremonies would be a surprise and an interesting effect," SLOC President Mitt Romney said.

Romney said organizers were disappointed they couldn't make it work.

He said experts "worked tirelessly to find a way to shroud it with fabric or other types of devices" that could be pulled away at the opening ceremonies but nothing was foolproof. One idea, Romney said, was to cover the caldron with flash paper, and burn it away.

But a covering could be torn away by wind or other weather conditions. Plus there are some some sharp corners among the many angles in the caldron that might catch any covering and ruin the hoped-for dramatic effect, Romney said.

Aside from saying there are "no right angles" in the design and that it incorporates water "as a coolant," the SLOC president had little to say about what the caldron will look like. But he did say it will be visible from much of the valley.

In fact, Romney said the south end of the stadium was selected because the flame will be visible from the downtown medals plaza, where athletes will be awarded their gold, silver and bronze medals in nightly ceremonies.

SLOC had to remove the university's giant video board to make way for the caldron structure, which includes some 80 feet of what Romney described only as the "artistic portion."

The estimated 2,500 athletes who will compete in the Salt Lake Games will be seated early on in the opening ceremonies in the south bleachers and will be there when the caldron is lit by the final torchbearer.

The identity of the final torchbearer is, so far, still a secret, although there has been speculation members of both the American and Soviet teams who played in the "Miracle on Ice" hockey game in the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., will do the honors.

The company behind the caldron, WET Design of California, is responsible for the volcano outside the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas as well as the "dancing waters" outside that city's Bellagio Hotel and the Olympic fountain at The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City.

E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com