Putin says 'not involved' in choice of Olympic flame lighter

Speculation has gripped the Russian Internet that Alina Kabayeva -- the 2004 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion -- will light the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said he was not involved in the choice over who will light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony in Sochi this week, amid frenzied speculation over the identity of the athlete. The Sochi Winter Olympics are due to open on Friday with a lavish ceremony at the Fisht Stadium by the Black Sea, expected to be laden with symbols of how Russia sees itself as a world power over two decades after the fall of the USSR. The key element of the ceremony will be the lighting of the Olympic flame but the identity of the person chosen for the iconic role has been kept tightly under wraps. Speculation has gripped the Russian Internet in the last weeks that the flame-lighter would be 2004 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva who has long been rumoured to be Putin's lover. "I'm aware of this (the speculation), I was told of this by (Kremlin spokesman) Dmitry Peskov. These are the usual red herrings," Putin said while touring a nature reserve above Sochi. "We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process," he said in comments broadcast on state television. The person -- to be chosen by the Sochi organising committee -- is widely expected to be a successful Russian sports star of international fame. Putin added that there was also no chance that he would be lighting the flame himself. "I do not represent winter sports, I am just a fan." The rumours of Putin's alleged relationship with Kabayeva have never been confirmed officially. Putin is now officially single after he and his wife Lyudmila divorced last year.