Who Will Light the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Cauldron?

The 2024 Paris Olympic Games are right around the corner, and while that event will be an innovative spectacle, the specter of the 2028 Games in Los Angeles – expected to be a watershed moment in the history of sports – looms large four years later.

The lighting of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Cauldron will be one of the iconic moments of sport, replayed on highlight reels for generations. The choice will be one of the iconic choices, alongside the likes of Muhammad Ali’s selection in 1996 or Cathy Freeman’s choice four years later.

A recent interview by The Ringer with sports and entertainment super-agent and LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman asked if he had thought about who might light the cauldron. His response: “I have.”

Wasserman is the central figure in this debate. His wife’s grandfather chaired the Los Angeles 1984 Summer Olympics Organizing Committee, and he represents a number of famous athletes. Ironically, none of the athletes below appear to be represented by Wasserman’s eponymous agency – meaning he should be free from direct conflicts of interest in the selection.

This sparked a conversation with Nick Zaccardi, one of the most knowledgeable people in the Olympic sports world, over who the front-runners might be.

The criteria:

  • It has to be someone with an Olympic tie-in. Peyton Manning, for example, won’t light the cauldron, because he was never an Olympian.
  • It hasn’t always been an athlete, but it probably will be. It will probably be a summer Olympic athlete.
  • Since the tradition began in Berlin in 1936, the US has hosted the Games six times, and all of the cauldron lighters have been men (including Charles Kerr in 1980 in Lake Placid, a psychiatrist from Arizona). There will be pressure to make this choice a woman, though I don’t think it’s a guarantee. There have been a lot of joint lightings lately, so that’s an option too.
  • Los Angeles connections will loom large in the selection.

Below, I’ve made a list of athletes (or groups of athletes) who, in my opinion, are the most obvious choices. Remember that several people will get a “spotlight leg” of the torch relay, carrying it inside the stadium, so it’s likely that more-than-one person on this list will be chosen.

The Slam Dunks

1. Venus & Serena Williams – Few athletes in major sports have committed as much to the Olympic Games as have the Williams sisters. Younger sister Serena participated in the 2000, 2008, and 2012 Olympic Games, winning three gold medals in doubles and the 2012 gold medal in singles. Venus participated in the 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Games, winning singles and women’s doubles in 2000, women’s doubles in 2008 and 2012, and adding a mixed doubles silver in 2016. Venus was born in Lynwood in Los Angeles, and while Serena was born in Michigan, much of her childhood was spent in the LA city of Compton – the city they are probably most-associated with, especially after the movie. There are a lot of reasons to choose the Williams sisters, absolute American sporting icons, not the least of which is that Serena is a Nike-sponsored athlete. Nike is the official sporting apparel brand of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and Team USA.

Olympic Icons With Los Angeles Ties

1. Magic Johnson – Magic as a solo entity is synonymous with Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Lakers and so well-liked. He was a member of the original Dream Team at the 1992 Olympic Games that won a gold medal and changed the global scheme of basketball forever.

2. Allyson FelixThe American runner has 7 Olympic gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 1 bronze medal. She has the most Olympic medals by any athletics athlete in history, plus the most World Championship gold medals and overall medals of any American track and field athlete.  She was born in Los Angeles, so has the domestic tie-in.

3. Joan Benoit – Not as much of a household name as the other people on this list, Benoit won the 1984 Olympic gold medal in the women’s marathon. That was the first time the Olympics offered a women’s marathon.

Olympic Icons Without Los Angeles Ties

1. Michael Phelps – the most decorated Olympic swimmer in history, Michael Phelps will surely be involved in the Los Angeles Games at many, many levels.  The flex of having the most-decorated Olympian in history lighting your cauldron gives him a big lift. The knocks against him are no Los Angeles connection and if the organizing committee might seek to represent more diversity in the Olympic movement.

2. The Original Dream Team (1992) – This will be the ‘popular favorite’ on social media, and it’s hard to blame anybody. The team that captured imaginations around the world, the list of icons on that team makes one salivate. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton, Chris Mullin, Christian Laettner, Clyde Drexler, and Karl Malone might be the best collection of talent ever assembled in any sport ever. Negotiating an appearance of all 12 of those guys would be a logistical hurdle, and they already did the team thing at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City with the “Miracle on Ice” hockey team. Karl Malone would present a dilemma for organizers.

3. Simone Biles – The 26-year-old rewrites the history of gymnastics year-after-year-after-year. She has 7 Olympic medals, 4 of those gold, and proved at the recent World Championships that she is in contention for a lot more in Paris, even at an age where most female gymnasts have long-since retired. There’s no real Los Angeles tie-in, but her star power can’t be looked past.

4. Jackie Joyner-Kersee – Joyner-Kersee attended college at UCLA, which will host much of the Games, and made her Olympic debut at the 1984 Summer Olympics, winning a silver medal in the heptathlon. So there are some LA ties, even if she’s not a native daughter of the city. She won 3 Olympic gold medals in 1988 and 1992 among 6 total in her career

5. Carl Lewis – An icon of the last Olympic Games in Los Angeles, in 1984 Lewis won the 100, 200, 4×100 relay, and the long jump, kicking off an Olympic career that won him 9 gold medals and 1 silver medal.

Wildcards

There always exists the possibility of something outside-of-the-box. Maybe there’s someone who is not even in the public thought now that will emerge. Perhaps Los Angeles will decide to do something totally unique. It’s happened before with amazing results – think Paralympic archer Antonio Rebello launching a flaming arrow across the cauldron in Barcelona 1992. The creativity of Hollywood is boundless. Here are a few ideas.

1. Descendants of Tidye Pickett and/or Louise Stokes – Pickett and Stokes could have become the first Black women to compete on a US Olympic Team at the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games, but they weren’t chosen for a track relay (see Smithsonian Mag’s description of the events here). This would be a chance for organizers to right that wrong.

2. Technology – Technology is advancing at an incredible rate, and the state of California is a hub for a lot of that advancement. Could a drone light the cauldron? What about Artificial Intelligence?

3. Kobe Bryant‘s family – Another iconic Los Angeles Laker, Bryant won gold medals with Team USA in 2008 and 2012. He died in 2020 in a helicopter crash, and since his death, his ‘Black Mamba’ legacy has only grown.

Conclusion

The Williams sisters are far-and-away the front-runners among people with valuable opinions on this matter. They check every box that the Olympic committee is expected to look for

Recent Torch-Lighters

No swimmer has ever lit the Olympic cauldron, and with all due respect to swimmers like Katie Ledecky, Phelps is the icon that gives our sport the best chance.

Here is a list of recent Olympic torch bearers:

  • 2022 Beijing Winter – Zhao Jiawen (nordic combined) and Dinigeer Yilamujiang (cross-country skiing)
  • Tokyo 2020 – Naomi Osaka (tennis) lit the stadium cauldron, Ayaka Takahashi (badminton) lit the outdoor cauldron
  • Pyeongchang 2018 – Yuna Kim (figure skating)
  • Rio 2016 – Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima (athletics) lit the stadium cauldron, Jorge Gomes (athletics) lit the public cauldron.
  • Sochi 2014 – Irina Rodnina (figure skating) and Vladislav Tretiak (ice hockey)
  • London 2012 – Lit by seven teenagers who were nominated by a veteran British Olympian.
  • Salt Lake City 2002 – The 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, aka “The Miracle on Ice”
  • Atlanta 1996 – Muhammad Ali (boxing)
  • Los Angeles 1984 – Rafer Johnston (track & field)
  • Squaw Valley 1960 – Ken Henry (speed skating)

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Ben Fisher
6 months ago

One wildcard is Ice hockey player Nicholas Robertson who was born prematurely on 9/11. And he’s from Pasadena, California, which is very near LA.

WestCoastRefugee
8 months ago

Not to take away from the Williams sisters, but I think it should be Carl Lewis. Many on here don’t remember, or were too young, but he was the face of the ’84 Olympics and is an aging icon. The fact that he won the 100/200 and long jump at the same Olympics is just bonkers. Peeps that are not familiar with T&F just don’t realize how crazy of an accomplishment this is. To my knowledge, Jesse Owens was the only other athlete to achieve this. He was undefeated in the long jump for 10 years, and still holds the indoor world record from 1984. That’s the oldest record on the books for Men indoors or outdoors. He probably won’t… Read more »

Batt Miondi
Reply to  WestCoastRefugee
8 months ago

I agree that it should be Lewis. Before this article even came out I was thinking he’d be the clear choice being the star of the last Summer Games we hosted in ‘84. He won all those Golds in the very stadium where the Opening will be.

FST
8 months ago

Comparing the medal count across different sports will always favor swimmers, track and field athletes, and gymnasts (and sports that you can do forever, like equestrian and the shooting stuff) and who knows if anyone will ever beat Michael Phelps in that regard. There are just too many opportunities to win medals in swimming for any other athlete to have a chance. I still think MP is the greatest on this list, but we’re all biased here, of course 🙂

He’s still competed in 5 Games and from the list, only Allyson Felix can keep up with him there. So he should be in the mix. And if he’s not lighting the cauldron, he’s carrying the Olympic flag with some… Read more »

Bob
8 months ago

Rowdy. He won there in 84.

Joel
Reply to  Bob
8 months ago

Only because he and his coach realised that the starter was very very trigger happy.

Garbage Yardage
Reply to  Bob
8 months ago

I’ll be watching for his caldron lighting reaction time

Torchbearer
8 months ago

Serena Williams, the GOAT that she is, has questionable support in many parts of the World from her behaviour in Grand Slams- in particular her US Open final meltdowns against Osaka and Stosur at the US Open that were very unsportsmanlike.

Has to be Phelps, and Biles- both GOATS of rolled Gold Olympic sports.

MarkB
Reply to  Torchbearer
8 months ago

No way will that be even close to a factor – behavior in Grand Slams. Please! We swim people want to give it to a person with a DUI. Which behavior is worse?

Joel
Reply to  MarkB
8 months ago

One is illegal and one isn’t. I agree.
BUT Serena took all the attention away from Osaka at Osaka’s first grand slam win. It was absolutely unforgivable.

OLOAP
8 months ago

Wow all of you Mikaela haters down here great to know

Joel
8 months ago

Scottie Pippen was on Australian TV last week and very honestly said his Olympic medals are ranked lowest in his list of achievements. And in tennis, the grand slams are definitely more prestigious than the Olympics.
They should choose someone from a sport where Olympic Gold is the absolute pinnacle.

SHRKB8
8 months ago

As an unbiased non-US punter, my thoughts instantly told me Carl Lewis and Michael Phelps after reading the headline but before reading the article. After reading the article I can certainly agree the Williams sisters make a lot of sense and will more than likely get the job due to their “locals” status and rightly so, they would make great choices for the role and provide lots of flexibility to how the organisers decide the flame is lit.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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