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2002 Olympic caldron ? Glass structure will be shining Games beacon

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Utahns got their first glimpse Tuesday of the water-drenched Olympic caldron atop a twisting glass and steel support structure being installed at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Spotlights illuminated the sharply angled caldron structure as it was lifted in the pre-dawn hours toward a base already in place atop the outside the stadium's south end. The caldron will rise 130 feet, high enough to be seen throughout the Salt Lake Valley.

The unveiling of the $2 million project marked one month until the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Games when the caldron will be ignited by a still-secret torchbearer ? or torchbearers.

Just how the flame will reach the basin of the towering caldron is also being kept under wraps.

The south end of the stadium is where the athletes coming from some 80 countries to compete in Salt Lake City will sit during the ceremonies.

"It's a very different caldron relative to those that has been constructed in the past. It is made of glass. . . . The flame is not going to be hidden," said Mitt Romney, the president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "It is a beautiful piece of art."

Romney said when the caldron is ignited during the opening ceremonies, the flame will be visible some 12 feet inside the glass and another 12 feet above. The flame will burn in the cauldron until it is extinguished during the Feb. 24 closing ceremonies.

It's the same flame that is being carried by some 11,500 torchbearers across the country in the Olympic torch relay. As is tradition, the flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, the ancient birthplace of the Games.

It will take about two weeks to install the caldron and the attached support structure, which together are 117 feet tall and weigh some 40,000 pounds. The twisting base contains 738 separate pieces of triangle-shaped glass, Romney said.

The 12-foot-diameter cauldron is "surrounded by a system to provide water at the top of the bowl that will run down the sides of the glass so you can see the flame emerging from the glass (through) shimmering water," he said.

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KSL: Cauldron unveiled

Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games

The caldron is made of two layers of glass, Romney said. The water will flow through the inside layer, made of Pyrex. The outside layer is made of safety glass that will help protect the caldron from both the heat of the flame and the weather.

A second caldron, half the size of the original, will sit at the Olympic Medals Plaza in downtown Salt Lake City and will be ignited on Feb. 9, through a torch relay from the stadium, SLOC's creative director Scott Givens said.

The caldron is "going to be one of the focal points of the ceremonies," said ceremonies producer Don Mischer. "I think it's going to fit in really well with what we're designing for the field and for our show."

Mischer said SLOC's decision to show the caldron now isn't spoiling the surprises he has planned for the ceremonies, which are expected to be watched by more than 3 billion people around the world.

"Having it up now will kind of build anticipation. Every time you drive past this stadium you'll be thinking about what it will look like when it is lighted," Mischer said, promising that will be an emotional moment.

"The lighting of the flame will not be overproduced. I think it will be simple and elegant and emotional. The emotion comes not from how you light something technically, the emotion comes from the process you use in lighting it and who lights it."

At the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, organizers chose to dazzle viewers with technology. Their caldron emerged from water that poured down a section of the stadium and, when ignited, turned into a ring of fire that rose to the top of the bleachers.

Organizers of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta chose the emotional approach, with legendary boxer Muhammad Ali lighting the caldron with hands shaking from Parkinson's disease.

There has been speculation that the Salt Lake caldron will be lit by the members of the U.S. and possibly the former Soviet Union men's hockey teams who played in the Miracle on Ice game during the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Mischer wasn't about to give away the identity of the final torchbearer for Salt Lake's Games. "You need to keep that a surprise," he said. "The element of surprise makes all the difference in the world."

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