Olympics Winter

Betty Fox, Gretzky could light Olympic cauldron

Speculation continues around who will be selected to light the Olympic cauldron at Friday's opening ceremony, with Betty Fox, Rick Hansen, and Wayne Gretzky favoured choices for many Canadians.

Some say the final torchbearer should be a past Olympian

Wayne Gretzky and Team Canada came fourth at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. ((Todd Washaw/Getty Images))
He is, without a doubt, one of Canada's greatest heroes.

Beginning in St. John's, while battling cancer, Terry Fox ran a marathon every day on one leg, raising money to fight against the disease.

And though he was unable to complete his cross-country trek, Fox's legacy and his mission have spread throughout the world.

Those are among the reasons Fox's mother, Betty Fox, may be chosen to light the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver during the opening ceremony for the Winter Games.

The image of Betty Fox completing her son Terry's cross-country journey could be one of the most moving moments of the Games.

But is she the most worthy Canadian to light the cauldron?

According to CBC's Scott Russell, "We are a land of ice and snow and our greatest ambassadors have been those who have worn the Maple Leaf with great distinction at the Olympic Games."

If Scott's logic holds, the honour should go to one of Canada's Olympic athletes.

Some argue, too, that the individual chosen to light the cauldron should possess an international presence.

Though her son's name resonates globally, Betty Fox is unknown outside of Canada.

"The person who lights the Olympic cauldron has to be an iconic figure in Canadian Olympic folklore," Russell says. "In this respect Canada has a wealth of choices."

The Great One a favourite

On that note, consider first that Canada is a hockey nation. And if any hockey hero is called to mind, most think of The Great One.

"Wayne Gretzky seems like the favourite because he's a global name and represents Canada's game," says CBC's Tom Harrington.

Gretzky's name and face are recognized worldwide, and unlike Terry or Betty Fox, he is an Olympian.

However, the Olympic gold medal that was placed around No. 99's neck wasn't earned on the ice, but as Team Canada's executive director at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

Gretzky did don a jersey at the 1998 Games in Nagano, but his team floundered and came fourth.

Betty Fox, mother of Terry Fox, stops at the statue of her son below Parliament Hill. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))
If Canadians want a true Olympian for their final torchbearer, says CBC's Brenda Irving, one name stands out: Nancy Greene Raine.

"This three-time Olympian and Olympic champion is Canada's most decorated ski racer," says Irving.

Perhaps reducing her chances of being selected, however, is that Greene Raine has already been named Canada's official Olympic ambassador during the Games.

But Irving says she's still a worthy choice.

"She's a legendary sports figure to kick-start the Games," she says, also noting Greene Raine's strong support of amateur sport in Canada.

Man in Motion

But there is another contender whose name doesn't offer Olympic history, but whose story, like that of Fox, carries the ideals and tenets of the Games.

Paralyzed from the waist down, Rick Hansen has won 19 international wheelchair marathons, including six medals as a Paralympian.

But what he's most known for is his Man in Motion tour, which began in 1985. Hansen wheeled through 34 countries on four continents, raising funds for spinal cord injury research.

"Rick Hansen … tells the world that Canada is a country that values determination and courage in all. And the wheelchair itself offers some visually powerful symbolism," says Harrington.

Adding to the mix of contenders is 81-year-old Barbara Ann Scott, who won a gold medal in figure skating more than 60 years ago.

"Barbara Ann Scott is the only Canadian to have won figure skating gold in an individual event," says Russell.

"She did that in 1948 when the world was healing the wounds of war. She remains Canada's sweetheart," he added.

Reducing the likelihood that Scott will be chosen, however, is that she already carried the Olympic flame in December 2009, when she brought it into the House of Commons.

The decision will be revealed before the pinnacle of the opening ceremony, when the flame is passed to the final torchbearer, and he or she ascends toward the cauldron.

The opening ceremony is set for Friday, Feb. 12 at 9pm ET at BC Place Stadium.