Cauldron designer admits he broke the rules

LONDON Sat Jul 28, 2012 8:26pm IST

The Olympic cauldron is seen lit during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The Olympic cauldron is seen lit during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

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LONDON (Reuters) - The man behind London's unique Olympic cauldron described on Saturday how he broke all the rules with his delicate yet dramatic burning flower design.

The cauldron was one of the best-kept secrets of the opening ceremony, and one of the most intricate and technically difficult ever created.

Consisting of 204 petals, one for each competing country, it first appeared like an open flower, stretched across the centre of the main stadium floor.

The stainless steel stems then gently rose in waves, bringing the 10 rings of petals into one closed ball of fire.

"Our very first briefing from the technical team ... was please can you come up with a design for the cauldron, and whatever you do, make sure there's no moving parts," designer Thomas Heatherwick told reporters after Friday's ceremony.

"And we were 'how are we going to persuade them, they are never to go for this'.

"It's the most moving parts that's humanly possible to have in a cauldron."

He said he was expecting a battle with organisers, but everyone "grabbed it", including Prime Minister David Cameron.


In a dazzling but also quintessentially British opening ceremony, seven young athletes lit the cauldron, dumbfounding most pundits who had put their money on Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes, or Steve Redgrave, five-time Olympic rowing gold medallist.

Heatherwick said the decision was "natural and it's never been done before".

"The UK's a country that has historically had the courage to do things that people don't necessarily think are obvious ... and we supported it completely, the cauldron can take it."

The designer said he pondered as much about where the cauldron should go as how it should look after years of ever bigger and higher cauldrons.

He said he did not want to just design a "different shape of bowl on a stick".

"I think the automatic assumption when we were thinking as designers was that the cauldron should be stuck on the top like a mobile phone aerial stuck on the stadium," he added.

Instead, he wanted the 204 "very small humble" petals to come together and hold hands, creating one flame, in the centre of the stadium, surrounded by the athletes.

Heatherwick said a five-man team had had to work in the early hours of the morning after everybody else had left the Olympic Park in east London to keep it a secret and no helicopters were allowed to hover overhead.

The 8.5-metre-tall cauldron is due to be moved on July 29 to a raised platform at one end of the stadium, similar to its position in the 1948 Games, the last time London staged the Olympics.

But its new home could annoy some.

One of the most iconic and photographed attractions of any Games, the flame will be out of sight of anyone not attending an event in the main stadium.

The petals, which each have a unique design for every nation, will be given to the national Olympic committees after the athletes have gone home. (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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