Olympics-Controversy stirs over out-of-sight Olympic cauldron

LONDON, July 28 Sat Jul 28, 2012 9:34am EDT

LONDON, July 28 (Reuters) - A controversy over the London Olympics cauldron was brewing on Saturday, hours after a spectacular opening ceremony, with organisers deciding to put one of the most popular features of the Games out of sight for visitors to the Olympic Park.

The cauldron, a complex structure of 204 moving steel rods and copper petal-like elements representing the nations taking part in the Games, was ignited on Friday at the centre of the newly-built Olympic stadium during a dazzling opening bash.

Organisers, however, said on Saturday it would be moved to the side of the stadium in the coming days -- within view of the 60,000 spectators -- to allow for track and field competitions.

Its new location is a nod to the 1948 Olympics, when London last staged the Games, and the place where the cauldron stood in the old Wembley stadium, cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick said.

"We were aware that cauldrons have been getting, bigger, higher, fatter," he told reporters. "We felt that we should not try to be even bigger than the last ones. It did not feel enough to just design a different shape of bowl on a stick."

But the decision not to place the approximately nine-metre tall structure above the stadium, means tens of thousands of Olympic Park visitors will be unable to see one of the Games most photographed attractions.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was up to the Games organisers to choose the location, as reporters asked why only ticket-paying spectators would get to see it.

"We allow people to have the cauldron where they want to," IOC spokesman Mark Adams. "London Games organisers did not want to compete with other cauldrons."

"We are fully supportive of that," he said, adding giant screens would give the park's visitors a glimpse of it.

Cauldrons at past Olympics have usually been placed above the stadium and burned throughout the 16 days of competition in view of visitors and the host city's residents.

London 2012 organisers staged a torch relay across Britain, with more than 95 percent of the population within an hour of the route, in an effort to make it as inclusive as possible.

The cauldron will be dismantled after the end of the Games with each nation receiving one of the copper pieces to take home with them in keeping with the Olympic theme of unity.

A fierce row erupted at the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics when organisers fenced off the cauldron and positioned security guards, blocking it from large numbers of visitors who had flocked to the seaside city for a glimpse or a picture of the Olympic symbol.

Officials were forced to remove some of the protection to allow for more visitor-friendly access to the cauldron.

The Olympic flame dates back to the ancient games staged in Olympia when a fire was kept burning during competition. (Editing by Matt Falloon)

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