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(Asiad) Celebrity with no sports connection lights Asiad cauldron

2014/09/19 22:59

By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- In an unusual and potentially controversial arrangement, a celebrity with no apparent connection with sports lit the cauldron for the 17th Asian Games that officially kicked off on Friday.

South Korean actress Lee Young-ae was the final torch bearer at the opening ceremony for the 16-day continental competition at Incheon Asiad Main Stadium. Five South Korean sports stars, either active or retired, took the Asiad torch around the stadium before handing it to a pair of young South Korean athletes. Lee joined the two and walked toward the cauldron to set it aflame, signalling the start of the competition.

South Korean actress Lee Young-ae, far left, carries the Asian Games torch toward the cauldron during the event's opening ceremony on Sept. 19, 2014. (Yonhap) South Korean actress Lee Young-ae, far left, carries the Asian Games torch toward the cauldron during the event's opening ceremony on Sept. 19, 2014. (Yonhap)

The organizing committee had tried to keep the identity of the final torch bearer under veil until Thursday. Yet in a news release detailing the proceedings of the opening ceremony, the committee said the person was "beloved across Asia" and had contributed to unifying the continent through her volunteerism, while also building a school in China.

The committee essentially played the role of a spoiler itself, and local media began to speculate that Lee would be the torch bearer because she fit the profile of being a popular figure across the continent who has also been generous with the underprivileged.

The organizing committee announced, about an hour before the torch arrived at the stadium, that Lee would indeed be the final torch bearer.

The actress has become a household name in China and Taiwan, among parts of Asia, for her lead role in the South Korean drama series titled "Daejanggeum," about an orphaned cook who goes on to become the king's first female physician.

The show drew more than 46 percent of viewers in South Korea and was later exported overseas to trigger the latest Korean cultural boom, known as "hallyu," in China, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. In Taiwan alone, the series was popular enough to be aired 14 times on cable channels over the past 11 years.

For all Lee's popularity, however, that she has no ties with sports leaves the door open for controversy.

Even in the long Olympic history, only three non-athltes have lit the cauldron, the last being Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, the apparent heir to the throne of Norway, at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games. There has been no such torch bearer in the Summer Olympics.

jeeho@yna.co.kr

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