LONDON – London 2012 organizers are considering a big Opening Ceremony shock: No major celebrity could be assigned to light the Olympic flame.
It is widely expected that a sporting legend, such as Great Britain's five-time Olympic rowing gold medalist Sir Steven Redgrave, will perform Friday’s honor. However, a senior Games source told Yahoo! Sports that a surprise option is being mulled over.
"Everyone assumes it will be a big name, and of course it is easy to reel off a list of worthy candidates," the source said. "But remember John Mark, it could happen again. Not everything is as clear-cut as it seems."
To understand the mention of John Mark requires delving into Olympic history, to the London Games of 1948. In the first Olympics held following World War II, it was Mark, a little-known runner who had failed to qualify for the Games, who stunned the crowd at Wembley Stadium by emerging from the tunnel, running around the cinder track and lighting the flame.
Several other candidates for the ceremony had been mentioned, including Prince Philip – husband of Britain current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who was then a young newlywed princess. The favorite for the role was Sydney Wooderson, the European 1,500 meter and 5,000 meter champion and former world record holder of the mile.
Instead, it was given to Mark, a 23-year-old medical student from Cambridge University, selected primarily for his dashing good looks.
"They wanted someone who looked like a Greek god," said athletics historian and former national newspaper journalist David Thurlow in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports. "John Mark was tall and blond and fit the look that they were aiming for.
"Sydney Wooderson was a wonderful athlete and he arrived at the stadium thinking he would light the flame. But he was 5-feet-6, wore glasses and had dark hair. That wasn't what they wanted."
Mark had been picked by Olympics officials Lord Burghley and Harold Abrahams, both former Games gold medalists. Like Mark, they were members of the Achilles Club, an organization open only to athletes who had represented either Oxford or Cambridge University.
In the months leading up to the 1948 Games, a Rolls Royce had regularly been sent to collect Mark from his student accommodations and take him to Wembley Stadium, where he ran practice laps in advance of the grand occasion.
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However, the selection of the handsome student was met with controversy. The reason behind the choice rankled many. Even the Queen's mother, Queen Elizabeth I, was reported to have voiced her displeasure that Wooderson was overlooked.
"Britain had just fought a war against the Nazis, who tried to make gods of men and celebrated the so-called superiority of the Aryan race," Thurlow said. "And here was a blond-haired, blue-eyed runner being chosen because he looked like a Greek god and not because he was a champion athlete. It was not to everyone's liking."
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Yet despite the mixed feelings at the time, John Mark took an admirably dignified stance on the matter. After repeated shoulder injuries interfered with his career in track and rugby, he became a highly respected physician in the quiet town of Liss, in southern England.
When tracked down by a journalist a few years before his death at age 66 in 1991, he said that lighting the flame was "the proudest moment of my life."
So it is really possible that another unknown could be picked to light the flame at the Olympic Stadium, 64 years after Mark's finest hour?
"I am not necessarily saying expect the unexpected," the source said. "But anyone who thinks they have got this all worked out doesn't know what they are talking about. There are several options – and at least one of them would take everyone by surprise."
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