Who will light Vancouver's flame?

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Organizers search for their 'Muhammad Ali' moment

It is an unforgettable moment. Dressed all in white, Muhammad Ali clutches the Olympic torch in front of tens of thousands of people at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

His free hand shakes continuously, revealing the battle he is fighting with Parkinson's disease, but the hand holding the Olympic torch stays still, unwavering.

As organizers of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games look to achieve a spine-tingling moment similar to that which came with Ali's appearance in Atlanta, some of the final flame-lighters being suggested include British Columbia natives such as fundrai

It is an unforgettable moment. Dressed all in white, Muhammad Ali clutches the Olympic torch in front of tens of thousands of people at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

His free hand shakes continuously, revealing the battle he is fighting with Parkinson's disease, but the hand holding the Olympic torch stays still, unwavering.

That moment of sheer determination set the stage for the Americans at the Olympics that year. The U.S. ended the Games with 101 medals - 44 of them gold, the most of any country.

For the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, organizers are looking for someone like Ali, someone who, in a moment, can make a lasting impression.

Organizers have kept the list of contenders for lighting the Olympic flame top-secret, only saying that all will be revealed at the opening ceremonies Feb. 12 in Vancouver.

"The lighting of the cauldron at the end of the ceremony will be Canada's ultimate wow moment," said Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee boss John Furlong.

"As it (the torch) nears its final destination, we want everyone to share the pride and surprise of the moment as the identity of the final torchbearer is revealed."

But as the days near, rumours continue to grow online about who organizers will pick.

Several Canadians have been suggested for the honour online, including retired Vancouver Canucks captain Trevor Linden, environmental advocate David Suzuki, Hollywood starlet Pamela Anderson and Wayne Gretzky, hockey's "The Great One."

Yet none has built up as much Internet momentum as the mother of one of this country's cherished heroes: Terry Fox.

A group created on Facebook urging organizers to pick Betty Fox has grown to nearly 120,000 members.

"I'd be very honoured to be able to do something for Terry if it should come about," Betty said from Chilliwack, B.C.

"It'd be a thrill to do the torch light, but I think I am just overjoyed that so many people would think that I would be a joy for them."

In 1980, Terry Fox spent 143 days running more than 5,000 kilometres across Canada. The feat, which would've been difficult for any Canadian, captured the hearts because Fox did the Marathon of Hope with an amputated leg to raise money and awareness for cancer research.

He never completed his cross-Canada run, forced instead to return to British Columbia for treatment when the cancer spread to his lungs.

Betty, now 72, said although it's been nearly three decades since her son's death, she is grateful his memory has not been forgotten. She admits, though, she doesn't think she has a chance of getting picked.

"I've watched it many, many times. It's a lot of pressure," she laughed, joking that someone her age might break a leg doing the final torch run.

Another Canadian whose name has been floated online is Senator Nancy Greene Raine, an alpine skier who competed in three Olympic Games in the 1970s.

"I don't expect to be chosen," a modest Greene Raine said recently. "I know they are going to do something utterly amazing. It's going to be big. They're going to come up with someone special."

But if she was chosen, she said she'd have no problem doing the relay and lighting.

"I would sure do it with a lot of lightness, with a spring in my step," she said. "There would be so much adrenalin pumping that I would be flying."

Greene Raine, who still holds the Canadian record for her 13 World Cup victories in skiing, said if the decision was up to her, she'd choose a Canadian senior who has a love for sports, but not necessarily a former athlete.

"I might pick someone 100 years old," she said.

"Someone who is well respected in their seniors years and will hold the hands of a young child to light the cauldron. It'll show that sport is a lifelong thing and it's for everybody."

For 1972 Olympic silver medallist Karen Diane Magnussen, who was Canada's flag-bearer at those games in Japan, lighting the Olympic flame at home would be overwhelming.

"Oh my gosh, what a thrill of a lifetime that would be for an athlete," said Magnussen, who was born and raised in Vancouver.

"So rarely that you (have) the Olympics in your city, let alone your country. Even the naysayers will be overcome with this incredible feeling of patriotism."

Magnussen said that if it was up to her, she'd choose Rick Hansen, the paraplegic athlete who made his way through 34 countries in a wheelchair on his Man in Motion Tour in the mid-1980s to raise money for spinal-cord research.


Summer 2008 in Beijing China: Li Ning, gymnast, three-time gold medallist
Winter 2006 in Turin, Italy: Stefania Belmondo, cross-country skier, gold medallist
Summer 2004 in Athens, Greece: Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, windsurfer, gold and silver medallist
Winter 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah: Members of the 1980 gold-medal-winning U.S. men's ice hockey team.
Summer 2000 in Sydney, Australia: Cathy Freeman, track runner, gold medallist
Winter 1998 in Nagano, Japan: Midori Ito, figure skater, silver medallist
Summer 1996 in Atlanta, Ga.: Muhammad Ali, boxer, gold medallist
Winter 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway: Norwegian Prince Haakon
Summer 1992 in Barcelona, Spain: Antonio Rebollo and Juan Antonio Epifanio, Paralympic archer and basketball player, silver medallist
Winter 1992 in Albertville, France: Michel Platini, football player and Fracois-Cyrille Grange, child
Summer 1988 in Seoul, South Korea: Sohn Kee-chung, marathon runner, gold medallist and two young track athletes and a schoolteacher
Winter 1988 in Calgary: Robyn Perry, 12-year-old figure skater

Organizations: Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, Vancouver Canucks, Cross-Canada Li Ning

Geographic location: Vancouver, Canada, U.S. Atlanta Hollywood Chilliwack British Columbia Japan Motion Tour Beijing China Turin Italy Athens Greece Salt Lake City, Utah Sydney Australia Nagano Atlanta, Ga. Lillehammer Norway Barcelona Spain Albertville France Seoul South Korea Calgary

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