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AP Interview: Mittal: Tower Not Olympic Cauldron

Orbit

DANICA KIRKA   07/23/12 03:44 PM ET  AP

LONDON — Love it or loathe it one thing is for sure: The Orbit Tower is not the Olympic cauldron.

Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal says the ruby red steel tower that rises 35 stories above the Olympic Park and resembles a smashed roller coaster is not the cauldron that will hold the ceremonial flame. In an interview Monday, Mittal told The Associated Press that he had met with Olympic authorities about the possibility that the tower would be used for that, but the plans did not get drawn up in time for consideration.

`'We were late," said Mittal, who was listed by the Sunday Times this year as the richest man in Britain.

Mittal's company, ArcelorMittal, donated the steel for the swirling centerpiece of the park and stumped up most of its 22.7 million-pound ($36.5 million) cost.

The lighting of the cauldron that holds the flame is always a big moment for the Olympics, and organizers usually withhold details about the opening ceremony and the flame lighting to ensure the appropriate drama. But usually there is some structure – somewhere – that hints where the flame will burn.

But not this time. The London cauldron's location remains a mystery.

Suspicion has long fallen on the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the abstract structure that just sits so close to the stadium one could watch the 100-meter final from its viewing platform. But Mittal says the tower is art to enhance the games that start Friday.

Meant to be a tourist landmark like Big Ben or the London Eye wheel, the abstract work of art has often been the subject of derision. London's newspapers have coined a few choice nicknames: the Eyeful Tower, the shisha pipe, the Hubble Bubble.

Mittal's not the least bit troubled that critics have tagged it as being the ugly duckling of the Olympic Park. It just needs to be understood, he told the AP.

`'People are still trying to criticize the Mona Lisa," he said.

But it's hard to imagine what Leonardo Da Vinci would make of this. The 1,500-metric ton (1,650 ton) showcase sculpture of the London Olympics was designed by London-based artist Anish Kapoor, a previous winner of the prestigious Turner Prize, and his design partner Cecil Balmond. Their design, dominated by a looping lattice of tubular steel, won a competition for the games.

One of Britain's foremost artists, Kapoor is known for large-scale installations like "Marsyas" – a giant blood-red PVC membrane that was displayed at London's Tate Modern museum in 2002 – and "The Bean," a 110-ton (100-metric ton) stainless steel sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park.

But the Orbit is a departure even for Kapoor, who based the tower on taking a point in space that is "orbited" by a dancing line of steel.

Mittal's latest comments mean the question of the London cauldron is still a burning issue.

In the ancient games, Greeks lit a ritual fire to commemorate Prometheus and his theft of fire from Zeus. There was a cauldron at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, but the idea of fires and torches and relays really took hold at the Nazi-backed 1936 Berlin Olympics, when organizers came up with the idea of a relay starting at Olympia in Greece.

The flame moment just kept getting bigger and bigger. Bill Mallon, and Olympic historian described it as a "wow" moment starting in 1952, when the Flying Finn, Paavo Nurmi, one of the best long- and middle-distance runners ever, brought the flame into the Helsinki stadium and Hannes Kolehmainen, another Finnish long-distance great who competed in 1912 and 1920, lit the cauldron.

After that, there was an arms race of flame moments. There was the archer at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics who lit the cauldron with a flaming arrow. And then there was the tear-jerk moment when Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, emerged from the shadows, his arm shaking, putting the torch to a wire that lit the cauldron in Atlanta in 1996.

One certainty remains for the tower: The public wants to take in the view.

Tickets for the tower during the July 27-Aug.12 London Olympics are already all sold out.

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Filed by Priscilla Frank  |