If you had a chance to pass the Olympic flame to someone, who would that be?

That intriguing question was asked by the pollster for RBC, torch relay sponsor for the 2010 games last month. It could be any prominent Canadian, dead or living, so it’s not surprising that 44 per cent picked Terry Fox, legendary embodiment of the spirit that is truly Olympic, once you get past all the baggage.

The usual gang of CanCon icons was represented: Wayne Gretzky and Pierre Trudeau occupied second and third place respectively, and people would like to pass the torch to Celine Dion, Gordie Howe, Oscar Peterson, Nancy Greene, Rick Hansen, Tommy Douglas, Emily Carr, and even Rene Levesque, who would have been challenged to run the 300 metres required, considering his three-pack-a-day habit.

The question was not: “Who would you pass the bill for the 2010 Games to?” That’s easy: Premier Campbell, who will, one way or another pass it back to you and me, the true inheritors of the Olympic debt, er, legacy.

But the question got me thinking. With all due respect to the memory of Terry Fox and his incredible Marathon of Hope, I’d like to pass it to someone who is still alive. Of the above list, (I’d like to hand Celine Dion a cork, but that’s another column), I’d nominate Rick Hansen. Lest we forget, he pushed his wheelchair around the world on behalf of spinal cord injury research — 40,000 kilometres across 34 countries.

There are also living Canadian Olympians who are all about the spirit. My favourite is Simon Whitfield, the incredible triathlete who demonstrated indomitable courage in the 2000 games in Sydney, where he got caught in a bike pileup and still finished in an Olympic record time. Then he did it again in 2008 in Beijing, where he came from nowhere and ran the most courageous final sprint I’ve ever seen and finished second to win the silver medal. OK, it’s the summer Olympics, but you have to admit, he’s a better choice than Rene Levesque. Celine Dion’s a better choice than Rene Levesque.

My next choice, after Rick Hansen and Simon Whitfield, would be a kid, any kid, with all the energy, enthusiasm and optimism that go with the territory. For better or worse, he or she will own the future, and if anyone needs the courage and determination that drives the Olympic spirit, it’s the next generation.

Here, kid: take it, with all my hope and trust. And thanks.

– Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;