x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Relighting the Olympic fire

There was less spectacle but as much emotion when the Olympic cauldron was controversially relocated to the south of the stadium, with a former torchbearer saying carrying it a second time moved him to tears, Laura Collins reports.

Torchbearer Austin Playfoot lights the Olympic Cauldron during a ceremony at the Olympic stadium in London.
Torchbearer Austin Playfoot lights the Olympic Cauldron during a ceremony at the Olympic stadium in London.

Perched on an hydraulic platform with an audience of only a handful of technicians, the Olympic cauldron certainly lacked the spectacle of the opening ceremony. But for at least one man, it lacked none of the emotion.

At 7.50am local time yesterday, Austin Playfoot relit the cauldron following its move from the centre of the field of play to the south end of the stadium.

Mr Playfoot was 18 when he first carried the Olympic torch in London in 1948. The former middle-distance runner was honoured to carry it again this year, but said: "When I ran with the Olympic flame through Guildford I never thought I would get this close to the cauldron. It brought me to tears when it lit up.

"It will be an incredible inspiration to the competing athletes here at the heart of the Olympic Park in the stadium."

The relocation of the cauldron - an operation that began with the flame being transferred to a miner's lantern on Sunday night - has been the focus of much controversy.

Many have complained that, unlike in previous games such as Beijing, where the cauldron was placed on the roof of the stadium, London 2012's will not be visible outside the stadium. Instead it will be projected on rooftop screens.

The designer, Thomas Heatherwick, defended the decision, pointing out that in 1948 the cauldron was within the stadium at a time when technology did not allow for it to be shared on screens.

He said that doing so for these Games "reinforced the intimacy of it".

He added: "If it had been a huge beacon lifted up in the air it would have had to be bigger and would have somehow not met the brief that we discussed with Danny Boyle, of making something that was rooted in where the people are."

The cauldron is made up of 204 steel pipes and copper petals, which were placed there by each participating nation at the opening ceremony.

It was lit by seven unknown teenage athletes in the culminating moments of the show. The burning petals then rose up, seeming to float into the night sky, until they came together to form the cauldron.

lcollins@thenational.ae