Sochi's Winter Olympics will begin with what is certain to be an opulent, expansive Opening Ceremony on Friday, and the centerpiece of any such ceremony is the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron. The person chosen to light the flame is traditionally one of stature in the host country, and his or her selection is a matter of great national honor and pride.
That there is Alina Kabayeva, 2004 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics gold medalist. She's one of the most decorated gymnasts in Russian history, so she'd be a reasonable choice to participate in the flame-lighting ceremony. She's also been linked in media speculation to Putin, who is single, since at least 2008.
[ Photos: More of Alina Kabayeva ]
Putin, for his part, knows of the rumors but professes ignorance. "We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process," he said during a recent appearance. He also dismissed the idea that he would light the flame himself. Sochi's Olympic committee has responsibility for choosing the person honored with lighting the torch.
The lighting of the torch is always a dramatic moment, whether fired by arrow, as in Barcelona 1992 (4:38 mark of the video):
... or lit by a worldwide legend, as with Muhammad Ali in Atlanta 1996:
Though not all such ceremonies are quite so noble. Four years ago, Vancouver thought it would be a good idea to truck Wayne Gretzky through the streets in the bed of a pickup truck:
Worst on the list: Seoul's Opening Ceremony, in which doves were released. Alas, some of the doves decided to alight on the cauldron itself, and, well, at the 4:30 mark of the video below, you can see what happened next:
No matter what, Friday's torch lighting will be memorable ... one way or another.