LONDON -- The first to break the 4-minute-mile barrier, Sir Roger Bannister's legend is based on that ability to get to the finish line first. But during Friday's Opening Ceremonies, tribute may be paid to his feat by choosing him to be last.
Bannister, who earned a permanent place in sporting lore when he ran a 3:59.4 mile on April 2, 1954, is the favorite to light the cauldron tonight during Opening Ceremonies for the London Olympics.
Bannister, now 83 years old, is such a favorite, in fact, that one prominent odds-maker is no longer taking bets on who the choice will be. A spokesman for the betting agency William Hill said it ceased taking wagers on the identity of the torchbearer after there was a "monster gamble" Thursday. He did not say who the bet was placed on.
Another prominent betting house, Ladbrokes, has Bannister at a 5/2 favorite. He had been at 20/1 as recently as last week.
It is remarkable that the choice remains a mystery with the Ceremonies, helmed by acclaimed director Danny Boyle, just hours away. During a press conference Friday morning, British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Hunt would reveal only that the choice was also agreed upon by Boyle and organizing committee member Paul Deighton.
"I'm pleased with the outcome,'' Hunt said. "It's a good one.''
Bannister would fit the historic theme that will be a significant element in Boyle's production, and it would come without any controversy. But if there's something working against Bannister as the choice, it's that he never won an Olympic medal, something he has in common with soccer icon David Beckham, who will also be involved in the festivities. Sir Steven Redgrave, who won five gold medals in rowing, and decathlete Daley Thompson, who won gold in 1980 and '84, also were considered as possibilities.
(Quick digression: Thompson isn't exactly fond of Redgrave. Today's Daily Mail included a feature in which Thompson listed his 10 favorite British Olympians. His comment on Redgrave wasn't exactly an endorsement: "As I understand it, for most of his gold medal career he wasn't even the best rower in his boat. So how he considers himself the greatest is beyond me. The greatest Olympians compete solo. I was going to put him 10th but, to show there are no hard feelings between us, I've moved him up to ninth.'' It's probably safe to presume they will not be passing the torch to one another.)
If even more intrigue is required, consider this: Often, the final torchbearer does not participate during the flame's long journey to the cauldron. But both Bannister and Redgrave carried the torch previously -- and on the same day, June 10.
The educated guess says the choice is Bannister, and it seems as if the money does as well. But only Boyle and a select few others know for sure.
As a BBC News anchor put it this morning, "We love secrets. They have kept a good one."