Steve Nash was asked June 24 who he thought would light the cauldron at the Pan American Games Opening Ceremony.
The question clearly caught him unprepared. Nash stumbled and mumbled at first.
“Wayne Gretzky,” he eventually said in a telephone interview for this Olympic Q&A, “but there are so many great candidates. Sometimes it’s not the most high-profile athletes.”
Nash was wrong, but maybe he knew all along. It wouldn’t be Gretzky lighting the cauldron in Toronto on Friday night. But it was very much a high-profile athlete.
Nash was the man tapped to light the Pan American Games cauldron at the Opening Ceremony, receiving the flame from the next great Canadian basketball star — NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins (who had received the flame from his mom, 1984 Olympic 400m runner Marita Payne-Wiggins).
It’s the second time Nash, a 2000 Olympian, has been part of a multisport event cauldron lighting in Canada.
In 2010, he helped light the Vancouver Winter Olympic cauldron, after a malfunction delay (Nash remembered that nervous delay in last month’s Q&A).
It capped a night that also started with a highlight. A video was shown of the 1996 Canadian Olympic champion 4x100m relay team running through Toronto with the flame, one torch bearer at a time passing to the next.
Eventually, Bruny Surin carried the flame briskly along the CN Tower EdgeWalk and handed to 1996 Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey, just as he did the baton at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Stadium on Aug. 3, 1996.
Bailey then base jumped off the 1,800-foot-high building (via stunt double) — and, in a nice bit of technology — dropped into Rogers Centre with the flame to set off the Opening Ceremony.
Other Canadian legends involved in the Opening Ceremony included Hockey Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Mark Messier, MLB Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, two-time Olympic triathlon champion Simon Whitfield, two-time Olympic 500m speed skating champion Catriona LeMay Doan and six-time Paralympic track and field medalist Rick Hansen.