The Vancouver Organizing Committee has managed to keep the identity of the person who will light the Olympic cauldron during today's opening ceremonies under wraps. Many have speculated that Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky will run the final leg of the Olympic Torch Relay, a tradition that dates to the 1936 Summer Games and begins with the lighting of the torch in the months before the Olympics in Olympia, Greece.
Others predict that Betty Fox, the mother of the late Terry Fox, the one-legged humanitarian who ran more than 3,000 miles across his native Canada in 1980 to raise money for cancer research, will light the flame that symbolizes the theft of fire from Zeus by Prometheus. Whoever emerges with the torch from the tunnel at BC Place Stadium will join a select group of Olympic greats, schoolchildren, and even royalty, who have lit the Olympic cauldron at past Winter Games.
The Olympic flame has been part of the modern Olympic Games since the 1928 Summer Olympics, but the lighting ceremony wasn't introduced at the Winter Olympics until 1952. Norwegian Eigil Nansen, the grandson of polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, lit the Olympic flame that year. Fridtjof Nansen was the first man to cross Greenland on skis.
Cortina d'Ampezzo, 1956
During the lighting ceremony, Italian speed skater Guido Caroli tripped over a loose public address system wire as he carried the Olympic flame around the main rink for the 1956 Winter Games. Caroli didn't see the wire because he was looking toward the Presidential box, but he regained his balance in time to avoid an embarrassing fall. "I didn't let the flame go out," he later said. "Remember that I didn't let the flame go out."
Squaw Valley, 1960
Andrea Mead Lawrence, a retired Olympic skiing champion, delivered the torch to American speed skater and defending gold medalist in the 500m, Ken Henry, who lit the Olympic flame at the base of the Tower of Nations.
Josef Rieder, an Austrian alpine skier, lit the Olympic flame in 1964.
Alain Calmat, who became a surgeon after his figure skating career was over, won the silver medal at the 1964 Olympics and had the honor of lighting the Olympic flame in his native France.
Hideki Takada, a 16-year-old Sapporo high school student, was the final torchbearer at the 1972 Winter Games.
To remember the 1964 Games held in Innsbruck and usher in the start of the 1976 Games, two flames were lit simultaneously by a pair of Austrian Olympic champions: Josef Feistmantl (luge) and Christl Haas (skiing).
Lake Placid, 1980
Dr. Charles Morgan Kerr, a psychiatrist from Tucson, Ariz., was one of 52 runners who carried the Olympic torch to Lake Placid from Virginia, where it had arrived from Greece. The 51 other relay runners elected Kerr to light the torch at the opening ceremonies.
Yugoslavia's top female figure skater, 21-year-old Sanda Dubravcic, lit the Olympic flame in Sarajevo after 1,600 other torchbearers participated in the Olympic torch relay.
Seventh-grader Robyn Perry, the last of 6,250 Canadians to carry the torch before the 1988 Games, stood on her tiptoes to light the flame at the opening ceremonies. Perry, 12, a talented figure skater, was randomly selected from a group of eight other students as a symbol of youth. The Montreal Gazette caught up with Perry, who now goes by Robyn Ainsworth, last year. "It shaped who I was," said Ainsworth, who is the director of We Care Home Health Services in Calgary. "I got so many life experiences out of it that I don't think I could separate it out from who I now am. It definitely impacted my life."
At least one French journalist described the Albertville organizing committee's decision to have French soccer star Michel Platini run the final leg of the Olympic torch relay as "trÃ¨s bizarre." Platini handed the torch to Francois-Cyrille Grange, a young boy from the Savoie region, who lit the flame.
Former Norwegian ski flying champion Ole Gunnar Fidjestol was scheduled to soar into the ski jumping arena carrying the Olympic torch for the opening ceremonies, but was hospitalized after suffering a sprained neck and a mild concussion in a crash during a trial run. "This was not my worst fall, but it was my most embarrassing," said Fidjestol, one of the all-time greats in a sport that differs slightly from ski jumping in that ski fliers take off from a higher plane and soar farther than ski jumpers. Stein Gruben, who had been practicing the jump as Fidjestol's understudy, stepped in and landed the jump perfectly. Gruben handed the torch to blind cross-country skier Catherine Nottingnes, who handed it to Crown Prince Haakon, who lit the flame. Haakon's father and grandfather were former Olympians.
Japanese figure skater Midori Ito, who won a silver medal in Albertville and the 1989 world figure skating championship, lit the flame.
Salt Lake City, 2002
The U.S. hockey team that upset the Soviet Union to win the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics lit the flame at the end of an inspirational torch relay that featured both Lance Armstrong and Christopher Reeve. Wearing USA hockey jerseys, 1980 U.S. captain Mike Eruzione and his teammates lit the Olympic cauldron after accepting the torch from U.S. skier Picabo Street and 2002 U.S. women's hockey captain Cammi Granato. "I think this is probably the final journey," Eruzione said afterward. "It's hard to imagine yourself being an Olympic athlete and winning a gold medal, then 22 years go by and you carry the torch and light the Olympic flame."
Stefania Belmondo, an Italian cross-country skier who won gold in Salt Lake City, lit the flame in Turin.