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Who Will Light the Cauldron at the Winter Olympics?

Follow our latest coverage of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

It’s one of the hot topics at the start of any Games, and one of the most closely guarded secrets: Who will light the Olympic cauldron in the stadium at the opening ceremony?

The New York Times has a pretty good record recently of predicting who gets the honor, so let’s try our hand at it again.

Typically, Olympic cauldron lighters are legendary athletes from the host country. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, for example, who else to light the cauldron but Wayne Gretzky? Four years ago, the South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim was chosen for the Pyeongchang Games.

It’s also possible that an active athlete will be chosen: The tennis star Naomi Osaka was picked at the Tokyo Games last year, for example.

China has a relatively short history of success at the Winter Games, simplifying our search somewhat. The country won its first winter medals only in 1992 and its first gold in 2002.

With history in mind, here are some leading candidates:

7. Chen Lu. Well remembered in China and abroad for her beautiful performances in figure skating in 1994 and 1998, Chen has the drawback of having won only two bronze medals and no golds.

6. Han Xiaopeng. His gold medal in skiing aerials in 2006 is China’s only gold in a snow sport.

5. Eileen Gu. An active athlete is less likely this year, because China doesn’t have one marquee performer at these Games. Gu, who could win a gold medal in freestyle skiing, might seem like a top candidate, but she was born and raised in the United States. Though she has chosen to represent China internationally, her background may count against her if officials are looking for homegrown athletes.

4. Wang Meng. The short-track speedskater has four gold medals and six total medals, both records for China. That would seem to vault her to the top of the list. But her choice is not a slam dunk: She was ousted as the head coach of the Chinese speedskating team in 2020 after less than a year on the job, which might make her an awkward choice. In 2011, she was kicked off the skating team after a physical fight with team officials. That sort of checkered history could hurt her with image-conscious selectors.

3. Yang Yang (S). Ten of China’s 13 Winter Olympics golds have come in short-track speedskating. Yang won five medals but no golds. Her unconventional name was chosen because there was another top speedskater at the time named Yang Yang. Which brings us to …

2. Yang Yang (A). With two golds and five total medals, Yang Yang (A) has even better credentials to light the cauldron than her namesake. But despite China’s great success in short track over the years, we’re going to go in a different direction for our final pick.

1. Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo. The pairs champions of 2010 are China’s only gold medalists in figure skating, perhaps the most popular sport at the Games worldwide. The husband-and-wife team would have the added bonus of having a man and a woman light the cauldron together.

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