ON THE FLAME – With hours to go before the opening of China’s first-ever Olympics, speculation is rampant in Beijing about who will light the flame that signals the start of the Games. China’s two most famous competing athletes – NBA star Yao Ming and champion hurdler Liu Xiang – are out of the running, having already run legs of the torch relay in Beijing. So the buzz now centers around six-time Olympic medal-winning gymnast Li Ning. Though Li is a Chinese sports hero for winning big in Los Angeles in 1984, his name is perhaps better known these days as a sportswear brand competing with Nike and Adidas in the heated race for China’s domestic consumers. Li Ning’s company lost a bid to Adidas for Olympic sponsorship, so things could get interesting if he does light the flame. As part of the Chinese contingent, he’d be bidden to wear an Adidas track uniform and forgo logo publicity for his own brand. But given that his company bears his own name, his mere presence could be a major publicity coups all in its own.

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