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Invisible flame is burning issue of London Games

Saturday, July 28, 2012 | 3:48 PM    

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LONDON, England (AP) —The Olympic flame is nowhere to be seen. The enduring image of the Summer and Winter Games, lit Friday night at the climax of the opening ceremony, is out of sight from the throngs of fans who hoped to catch an inspiring glimpse or take the photo of a lifetime.

The cauldron sits low in the center of Olympic Stadium in London, invisible from the outside. It will be moved Sunday to a corner, and visible in person only to fans lucky enough to have tickets to track and field, which started yesterday.

Until then, if you want to see the Olympic flame, you'll have to settle for a beauty shot on television, where it looks from above like a small, distant campfire, or the pilot light under the eye of a giant stove.

"It's unfortunate," said John Morrissey, who traveled to London on a day trip from Ireland on Saturday, the first day of competition. "I didn't realize you couldn't see it. I was going to walk around until I saw it. It seems quite poorly thought out."

"That could have been made more user-friendly," said Lorraine Payne, an airline worker from London.

The lighting was one of the high points of the opening ceremony. Seven teenage athletes, meant to represent the next generation of British sports, touched flaming torches to 205 petal-shaped copper stems that spread into a ring of fire.

Then the flames rose and converged, as if into an elegant, blazing flower. Fireworks erupted over the stadium, Paul McCartney led a singalong of "Hey Jude," and London was off to a feel-good start to its games.

Just maybe a darker one than everyone expected.

The designer of the cauldron, Thomas Heatherwick, offered an artistic defense: "It's almost that the stadium represents some kind of temple and it's the flame that sits in the heart of that temple."

"We were aware that cauldrons have been getting bigger, higher, fatter as each Olympics has happened," he said.

Indeed, Beijing was a tough flame to follow. The Summer Games in 2008 featured a mammoth, spiraling cauldron attached to the inner roof of the stadium, so big that it dwarfed the wire-suspended gymnast who spacewalked around the rim to light it.

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