By Janet Guttsman
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - For tens of thousands pouring into downtown Vancouver on Sunday, the Olympic cauldron, most important symbol of the Winter Games, was locked behind a ring of steel.
Instead of a clear view of the four-armed metallic structure against a backdrop of snow-topped mountains -- the picture postcard image from television shots -- visitors to the Vancouver waterfront saw packed streets, disappointed crowds, and a chain-link fence.
"They should have made it in a more visual spot, or at least put it in a spot that's raised up so we don't have to fight each other," said Vancouver resident Elaine Verrier, who was visiting the site with her family.
Organizers said the ugly fence in front of the cauldron is a necessary accessory to a Games which have been marked by occasionally violent protests.
"We do want to make sure the flame is secure," Games spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade told reporters. "It is obviously a safety issue for people getting too close to it as well as for their own protection."
Smith-Valade said officials were looking at the possibility of replacing the fence, which has a big "No Trespassing" sign on it that further blocks the view of the cauldron, with something less unsightly. She gave no details.
That will not come in time for Sunday's visitors though.
"It's disappointing," said Libby Cookson, visiting Vancouver from Britain. "We saw it on TV being lit by -- who was it, the Great One? -- and now this?"
Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretzky, known as the Great One, lit the outdoor cauldron after a gala opening ceremony on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Jeffrey Jones)
(Editing by Jon Bramley)