Friday night at Maracana Stadium, one of Brazil’s sporting heroes will ignite the Olympic torch and officially begin the Games. The identity of the torch lighter, a secret until the Opening Ceremonies, always provides suspense and intrigue, and the decision may soon be one the United States must make. With Los Angeles a leading contender to host the 2024 Olympics, the seven Post sportswriters at the Rio Olympics made their choices for who should light the torch if the Games return to America.
When you say Los Angeles Olympics, Carl Lewis is the first Olympian that comes to mind. The 1984 Summer Games there served as his introduction to most of the sporting world, and more than three decades later, he’s still a familiar and celebrated superstar. Lewis won a total of 10 Olympic medals in his career — nine of them gold. Sports Illustrated named him its Olympian of the Century and the International Olympic Committee named him its Sportsman of the Century, pretty heady titles. How good was Lewis? He was drafted by both the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, even though he didn’t play either sport in college. Fortunately for Olympic fans, he stuck with track and field and he’s even playing a role in helping bring the 2024 Games to Los Angeles. Plus, he’s a vegan. What better way to represent California? — Rick Maese
Billie Jean King
My choice to light the cauldron in Los Angeles would be Billie Jean King, one of the most important American athletes and political figures of the 20th century, and a native Los Angelean who grew up playing tennis on its public courts, and attended Cal State L.A. — before scholarships were given to women. She’s been a tireless rights activist, whose lifelong work in helping to make competition available to women — including the passage of Title IX — transformed the face of the Olympics. Tennis was her sport, but rights activism has been her real game, whether women’s rights, gay rights or human rights. She’s an all around living flame. Let her light it up, baby. — Sally Jenkins
L.A. is a grand and glamorous city, but there’s an intimacy to Magic’s connection with his adopted home. He’s a big enough world icon and a perfect representative of Southern California. Without question, he’s a worthy global icon, one of the greatest basketball players ever, a five-time NBA champion and a 1992 gold medalist on the Dream Team, the most dominant force in Olympic history. More than that, he’s an inspirational figure because of how he’s handled living with HIV and rendering it nearly a non-factor in his daily life. When Johnson played on the Dream Team 24 years ago, there was still fear that his life would end soon after. To see him light the Olympic torch in 2024, 33 years after he received a supposed death sentence at age 32, would be a powerful moment for millions who love him around the world. — Jerry Brewer
A no-brainer. With the death of Muhammad Ali and the disappearance of Tiger Woods, he is the most recognizable American athlete on the planet, the greatest player of all time in a sport invented by and dominated by Americans, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. If he doesn’t get the nod, I’m going to be all (you know what’s coming) like this:
— Dave Sheinin
Jenner’s athletic resume is unassailable, and yet her cultural resonance overtakes that. Competing as Bruce Jenner in the 1976 Montreal Games, Jenner won gold in the decathlon and became an icon, famously adorning Wheaties boxes, the very picture of a healthy lifestyle and athletic achievement. Jenner capitalized on the gold to become one of the most recognizable athletes in the country, but she cemented her importance in American culture outside of sports just last year, when she publicly identified herself as a trans woman, changing her name from Bruce to Caitlyn. By 2024, who knows how many lives she will have touched with that one decision? — Barry Svrluga
John Carlos and Tommie Smith
The two sprinters are linked forever for their controversial and remarkably brave demonstration on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where they went barefoot and raised black-gloved fists in the air during the playing of the national anthem. Their demands for civil rights were a bold and just use of the platform they achieved through athletic excellence. Carlos and Smith, bronze and gold medal winners in the 200 meters, were shunned at the time, kicked off the U.S. team and sent death threats. Fifty-six years later, they will deserve a nation’s appreciation and the world’s embrace. — Adam Kilgore
The 1980 U.S. Olympians of the boycotted Moscow Games
Like thousands of athletes before and since, they trained for the Olympics most of their lives. But four months before the 1980 Moscow Games, they stood with their country and boycotted, putting their faith in the stance President Carter took in protest of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Some returned for subsequent Olympics. For most, 1980 was their only opportunity to compete on an Olympic stage. All were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in 2007. But to give them the opportunity to stand as one, to light the torch in Los Angeles, would be a fitting acknowledgement of their sacrifice. — Liz Clarke
Who’s your choice?