Who will light the Olympic cauldron in London?

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

From now until the start of the 2012 Olympics, Great Britain's favorite parlor game will be guessing who will light the torch next July 27 in London. Recent Olympic torch lightings have ranged from the simple (Muhammad Ali) to the spectacular (a harness-wearing Li Ning running around the top of Beijing's Olympic Stadium) and it's a good bet London will try to up the ante with a unique lighting of its own.

A look at some of the candidates to light the Olympic cauldron:

David Beckham — The soccer star represented London at the 2005 bid meeting in Singapore and participated in the handover at the Closing Ceremony of Beijing. He's still harboring hopes of playing on the nation's Olympic soccer team as one of the three overage players on the under-23 squad. If he's successful, it would be the first Olympics for the 37-year-old and would make him a fine choice to be the final torch bearer. If he doesn't make the team, selecting him to light the cauldron would be a nod toward celebrity rather than Olympic heroism.

Sebastian Coe — If he wasn't the chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, Coe would be a natural choice to light the flame. Since he's the one ultimately in charge of selecting the final torch bearer, it's hard to imagine he'd bestow the honor on himself.

Kelly Holmes — When she stepped onto the track in Athens, Holmes had never won a major international championship. At 34, it appeared her career may be defined by near misses, runner-up finishes and injuries. Then she won two gold medals in Athens in the 800m and 1500m and, in turn, became one of the nation's great Olympic champions. If any Brit personifies the Olympic spirit, it's Holmes.{YSP:more}

Chris Hoy — The Scottish cyclist is one of the nation's most successful Olympians in history. His three gold medals in Beijing were the most in 100 years for a Brit in a single Olympics.

Steve Redgrave — He's been called the nation's greatest Olympian. A five-time gold medalist in rowing (in five consecutive Olympics), Redgrave is one of Great Britain's top sporting stars and has already been installed as the oddmakers' favorite to light the cauldron. Can't you already picture Sir Steve on his canoe rowing out with a torch to a cauldron perched in the middle of the Thames?

Paula Radcliffe — Olympic success is the only thing that eluded the marathon star during her decorated career. Radcliffe won world championships, European championships and some of the biggest marathon races in the world, but never put it together at the Summer Games. Heavily favored in Beijing, Radcliffe finished 23rd after stopping mid-race to deal with cramping.

Daley Thompson — Born just 10 miles away from Olympic Stadium in London's Notting Hill, Thompson won two decathlon golds in the 1980s and was the long-time world record holder in the event. His reputation for abrasiveness -- one critic called him "objectionable, charmless and rude" -- could work against him. Or it could serve as the basis for a stirring turnaround of retribution.

Another name to consider:

Roger Bannister — At 82, Bannister is almost certainly too old to be the final torch bearer. Organizers will want youth and vitality to begin the Games. But why not use Bannister, one of history's greatest sportsman, in some capacity? Though he never won Olympic gold, finishing fourth in Helsinki in 1952, his feat of breaking the four-minute mile is one of the grandest achievements in sports.

Prediction: Redgrave's status as the prohibitive favorite to light the torch may work against him. It's almost too easy a choice. Though Sir Steve will doubtlessly be involved in the Opening Ceremony in some capacity, look for Kelly Holmes to become the fifth woman to light the cauldron at a Summer Games.

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