The Olympic torch arrived in Sochi, Russia on Wednesday, but the question still remains, who will carry the torch during Friday’s Opening Ceremony?
The lighting of the Olympic Cauldron is an important honor, and the person chosen to light the flame has traditionally been a notable athlete in the host country. Famed boxer Muhammad Ali had the honor during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky got the gig during 2010′s Vancouver Olympics.
The identity of who will light the Olympic flame has been kept under wraps, but Alina Kabayeva, a 2004 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics gold medalist, is speculated to have the role. Kabayeva, 30, is one of the most celebrated gymnasts in Russia — she also happens to be the rumored girlfriend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin and his wife Lyudmila divorced last year.
Putin acknowledged the rumors that Kabayeva would be carrying the torch, but he insisted the choice was not up to him. (Sochi’s Olympic committee chooses the person who will light the flame.)
“I’m aware of this (the speculation), I was told of this by (Kremlin spokesman) Dmitry Peskov. These are the usual red herrings,” he said during a recent appearance. “We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process.” He also dismissed the rumor that he would light the flame himself.
All eyes will be on Sochi tonight as the world tunes in for the official start of the most expensive Olympic Games in history (Sochi Winter Olympic Games are estimated to be more than $50 billion!).
The Opening Ceremony kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.