LONDON – Sir Roger Bannister emerged as the overwhelming favorite to light the Olympic Flame on Friday after a huge gambling sting caused bookies to stop taking bets.
Bannister, who was the first man to break the four-minute barrier for the mile, was originally considered a long-shot candidate to perform the honor, but now seems likely to take pride of place at the Opening Ceremony – despite being described as an "illogical" choice.
One leading bookmaker chain, William Hill, would not accept any more money to be placed on Bannister after tens of thousands of dollars was bet on the 83-year-old in the space of just a few hours.
"He went from 6:1 to 1:1 and he was 33:1 just a few days ago," a William Hill spokesman said. "It seems a bit illogical as he has no strong link with the Games."
[ Photos: Royal family greets torch ]
Other bookies also slashed their odds but still allowed some bets. Ladbrokes cutting Bannister's odds from an initial 20:1 to just 1:1 on their online service.
Bannister’s place in athletic history will be forever secure, but he never won a medal at an Olympics, missing out on the places at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.
The reason behind the flood of money wagered on Bannister is believed to stem from the two full rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony that have taken place this week.
Even though the dry runs did not reveal the identity of the torch bearer, witnesses told how the occasion seemed to be set up to accommodate a track athlete and possibly an older figure. Event organizer Danny Boyle has pleaded with the volunteers and crowds who watched the rehearsal to "save the surprise" – even setting up a Twitter petition based around that theme. Some though, could clearly not resist trying to profit from the experience.
"I am not going to place a bet but it did look like it was set up for a runner from the past," said one Olympic volunteer. "When you try to imagine which famous figure would fit best into the way the Ceremony was conducted, Bannister was the obvious one to come to mind."
If Bannister is the man, it would be a popular choice, even though five-time Olympic rowing gold medalist Sir Steven Redgrave also has strong claims and had been the favorite in the months leading up to the Games.
Bannister recorded a time of 3:59.4 at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Track on May 6, 1954, to crack a running milestone that many thought impossible. He went on to enjoy a highly successful career in research and medicine and has long been an admirable ambassador for British sports.
Redgrave’s chances might have been damaged by an ugly public war of words with Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson, with the pair using the press to downplay each other’s achievements.
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