Rogge hopes champion lights flame
Greatest Summer Olympian, Part II
LONDON -- Not even IOC President Jacques Rogge knows who will light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the London Games -- but he'd like it to be an Olympic champion.
"I'd love to know, but I don't know," Rogge said Friday, just hours ahead of the opening at the Olympic Stadium. "This is one of the best kept secrets. We have an agreement with organizing committees. It's your responsibility. We need not know."
Rogge complimented local organizers for managing to keep the identity of the final torchbearer or torchbearers under wraps even from the British media.
"Hats off to the organizing committee," he said. "I know how strong (the British) press is but sometimes the organizing committee is a bit stronger. It's not bad."
British rower Steve Redgrave, who won team gold medals at five consecutive Olympics, has long been considered the favorite for the honor of lighting the flame. Daley Thompson, a two-time decathlon champion, was viewed as his leading challenger.
But Roger Bannister is now the even-money favorite with British bookmaker William Hill after a surge in bets Thursday on the man who broke the 4-minute barrier in the mile in 1954.
Bannister never won an Olympic medal, though, finishing fourth in the 1,500 meters at the 1952 Helsinki Games.
Asked whether the flame lighter should be an Olympic champion, Rogge said: "That would be nice. It is not a prerequisite or obligation, but obviously you think of an Olympic champion to do that."
Rogge said London should not try to compete with the grandiose opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Games and should focus on showcasing the British identity.
"The opening ceremony here will be different," he said. "It is wise for London not to try to emulate the open ceremony of Beijing. The Beijing opening ceremony was a manifestation of the most populous country of the world, something the United Kingdom cannot match of course."
Rogge downplayed reports that some tickets remain unsold for the ceremony at the 80,000-capacity stadium directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle.
"It will be a fully packed stadium and, believe me, there will be a great ambiance," he said. "I wouldn't be worried about that."
Rogge stuck to his position against holding a minute of silence during the ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinian gunman at the 1972 Munich Games. The families of the victims, Jewish groups and political figures in the United States, Germany and Israel have pushed for the victims to be commemorated at the ceremony.
"There has been no pressure from any nation whatsoever," Rogge said. "The IOC has always honored the memory of the victims of Munich '72."
Rogge led a minute of silence for the victims inside the athletes village on Monday, will attend a private ceremony in London during the games and will take part in a commemoration on the 40th anniversary on Sept. 5 at the Munich airport where most of the Israelis died.
"We have always commemorated and will continue to commemorate the memory of the killed athletes," he said.
Rogge reiterated full confidence in London's preparations for the games after a buildup dominated by British headlines about security and transportation concerns.
"I am very optimistic for these games," he said. "The preparations were excellent. The key ingredients for successful games are good security, a good village, venues and transportation that works. If we have all that, we will have very good games. I am optimistic and confident."
Rogge was asked how ready London was at this stage compared with previous host cities.
"I would think in terms of readiness these games equal the readiness of Sydney and Beijing definitely," he said. "But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Ask me again at the closing ceremony."
Rogge praised London's legacy program, noting that six of the eight venues in the Olympic Park have their long-term future already determined.
"There will be no white elephants left, and that's unique," he said.
On other issues, Rogge hailed the pre-games doping tests around the world that have caught 107 athletes and kept them out of these Olympics.
"This is a good sign for the fight against doping," he said. "We are continuing to test and test and test again before the competition. We will be testing of course during the competition. I would say this is proof the system works, is effective and the system is a deterrent one."
Rogge, a former Olympic sailor, said he was looking forward to Saturday's cycling road race in which Britain's Mark Cavendish is the favorite. Large crowds are expected along the route, which starts and ends on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.
"I know entire Great Britain is awaiting for Cavendish to win the Olympic gold," he said.
Rogge, who plans to attend all 26 sports during the games, singled out British sailor Ben Ainslie going for a fourth gold medal and said it would be a "dream" to see Roger Federer playing Britain's Andy Murray in the men's tennis final at Wimbledon.
Rogge offered high praise for Sebastian Coe, a two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion who has spent the past seven years leading the organizing committee.
"I have a great confidence in Sebastian Coe," Rogge said. "He's a very knowledgeable man. He has the heart at the right place. He thinks about the athletes first. He's very talented. He can build a team. I have high respect for him. I think he did a very good job."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press