7:39 PM CDT, August 2, 2012
LONDON — For 70 days, the Olympic flame was one of the most visible sights in the United Kingdom, relayed over land, sea and sky in front of some 15 million people. Then it arrived at the Olympic Stadium for last Friday's opening ceremony and went missing.
It still is burning, of course, in the caldron that emerged from the floor in the stadium's center. In an overnight extra relay leg, the caldron hopped into a primo seat at field level near the first turn of the track, so javelins crossing the infield won't get scorched.
Spectators will get another look at the flame when track and field competition begins Friday. People sitting within 20 feet of its new location will smell the gas and feel the heat emerging from its 204 steel pipes.
But the caldron will remain invisible outside the stadium, an idea that has sparked some consternation.
No looking up in the night sky for the Olympic guide star. No pictures like those in Sydney, where fans could get the right angle to pose as if they were holding the caldron. No chance to be a running joke like the seeming McDonald's French fry container that held the flame atop Atlanta's Olympic Stadium.
No way for the tens of thousands visiting London's Olympic Park each day to see it, unless they have tickets to track and field or it shows up on the big screens at the park's live site. The caldron has been projected on the stadium's big screens the past three days, but those can been seen only from the inside.
And it even disappears into the background from many vantage points in the stadium.
Only the happy few can get a bit of live love from Betty.
That is the code name organizers gave the cauldron to keep her shape a secret. There is no hidden meaning to the name. It came from an executive producer with a dog called Betty.
"The rest of the park is fabulous, but it's a crying shame to see no flame," said Richard Brown of Toronto.
Brown reflected the general opinion of people asked about it Thursday. Englishman David Miller demurred in a way that would have pleased the caldron's designer, Thomas Heatherwick, and the ceremony's artistic director, Danny Boyle.
"Bearing in mind what's coming up in the next week, it's a very good place to be," Miller said.
Every time someone runs more than 100 meters, television cameras will show them passing Betty.
And all but a tiny percentage of the world gets its view of the Olympics from TV.
There are no International Olympic Committee protocols for caldrons, and there are philosophical, practical, historical and environmental reasons for keeping Betty hidden in plain sight. They all made sense when Bill Morris of the London Olympic Organizing Committee explained them.
"We believe the strength of the story behind this makes it worth some of the tradeoffs," said Morris, LOCOG's director of ceremonies.
One was building a caldron on a relatively human scale — compared to the colossal structures in recent Summer Games — and bringing it down to a spot where it almost interacts with the athletes performing in the stadium. The reduced size demanded less steel and uses less gas. And the location recalls the last London Olympics in 1948, when the cauldron rested inside Wembley Stadium.
"The main vision was bringing the Games back to the athletes," Miller said.
If you stretched the point, it was the athletes who built the caldron. And it will be the athletes who inherit it.
As athletes from each of the 204 countries entered the stadium last week, a young girl carrying a metal flower accompanied them. Those flowers were attached to each of the cauldron's pipes as they lay on the ground.
Seven young British athletes lit the pipes, and they moved upright. Sunday night, the flame was put into a miner's lamp, the caldron was moved and then relighted by a man who had been a 1948 torch relay runner. When the Olympics end, each country will get back its flower.
"That way the caldron becomes the world's gain," Morris said.
For now, though, it is easy to feel a sense of loss.
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