Olympic Flame: Wikis


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The torch relay of the 2002 Winter Olympics passes through Cincinnati, Ohio

The Olympic Flame or Olympic Torch is a symbol of the Olympic Games.[1] Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics[citation needed]. The fire was reintroduced at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since.

In contrast to the Olympic flame proper, the torch relay of modern times which transports the flame from Greece to the various designated sites of the games had no ancient precedent and was introduced by Carl Diem at the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics.[2]



The Olympic Torch today is ignited several months before the opening celebration of the Olympic Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece. Eleven women, representing the Vestal Virgins, perform a ceremony in which the torch is kindled by the light of the Sun, its rays concentrated by a parabolic mirror.

The Olympic Torch Relay ends on the day of the opening ceremony in the central stadium of the Games. The final carrier is often kept unannounced until the last moment, and is usually a sports celebrity of the host country. The final bearer of the torch runs towards the cauldron, often placed at the top of a grand staircase, and then uses the torch to start the flame in the stadium. It is considered a great honor to be asked to light the Olympic Flame. After being lit, the flame continues to burn throughout the Olympics, and is extinguished on the day of the closing ceremony.


Ancient Olympics

For the ancient Greeks, fire had divine connotations—it was thought to have been stolen from the gods by Prometheus. Therefore, fire was also present at many of the sanctuaries in Olympia, Greece. A fire permanently burned on the altar of Hestia in Olympia, Greece. During the Olympic Games, which honored Zeus, additional fires were lit at his temple and that of his wife, Hera. The modern Olympic flame is ignited at the site where the temple of Hera used to stand.

The modern era

The Marathon Tower at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, where the first modern Olympic Flame burnt in 1928
Olympic flame at Berlin games 1936

Flame from the ancient games was reintroduced during the 1928 Games. An employee of the Electric Utility of Amsterdam lit the first Olympic flame in the Marathon Tower of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. The modern convention of moving the Olympic Flame via a relay system from Olympia to the Olympic venue began with the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

The relay, captured in Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia, was part of the Nazi propaganda machine’s attempt to add myth and mystique to Adolf Hitler’s regime. Hitler saw the link with the ancient Games as the perfect way to illustrate his belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich.[3]

Although most of the time the torch with the Olympic Flame is still carried by runners, it has been transported in many different ways. The fire travelled by boat in 1948 to cross the English Channel and was carried by rowers in Canberra as well as by dragon boat in Hong Kong[4] in 2008, and it was first transported by airplane in 1952, when the fire travelled to Helsinki. In 1956, all carriers in the torch relay to Stockholm, where the equestrian events were held instead of in Melbourne, travelled on horseback.

Remarkable means of transportation were used in 1976, when the flame was transformed to a radio signal. From Athens, this signal was transmitted by satellite to Canada[5], where it was received and used to trigger a laser beam to re-light the flame. This distinctive 1976 torch was manufactured by John L. Saksun's The Queensway Machine Products Ltd. In 2000, the torch was carried under water by divers near the Great Barrier Reef. Other unique means of transportation include a Native American canoe, a camel, and Concorde.[6] In 2004, the first global torch relay was undertaken, a journey that lasted 78 days. The Olympic flame covered a distance of more than 78,000 km in the hands of some 11,300 torchbearers, travelling to Africa and South America for the first time, visiting all previous Olympic cities and finally returning to Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The climactic transfer of the flame from the torches to the cauldron at the host stadium concludes the relay and marks the symbolic commencement of the Games. Perhaps one of the most spectacular of these ceremonies took place at the 1992 Barcelona Games, when Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo ignited the cauldron by shooting a burning arrow over it from the stage in the stadium. Two years later, the Olympic fire was brought into the stadium of Lillehammer by a ski jumper. In Beijing 2008, Li Ning 'ran' on air around the Bird's Nest and lit the flame. In Vancouver 2010, four athletes—Catriona LeMay Doan, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash and Nancy Greene—were given the honor of lighting the flame simultaneously. (A mechanical malfunction kept Doan from physically lighting her arm of it; however, Doan received her chance to light the cauldron at the beginning of the Closing Ceremonies.)


Paavo Nurmi lights the Olympic fire in Helsinki in 1952.
The Olympic Flame at the Opening Ceremony, Athens 2004 Games
An Asian man in red and white athletic shirt and shorts, and wearing sneakers, is suspended by wires in the air while holding a lit torch. In the background, a large crowd in a stadium can be seen, as well as two blurred flags.
Li Ning, a Chinese gymnast, lit the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics after 'flying' around the stadium on wires
The Vancouver olympic flame

Over the years, it has become a tradition to let famous athletes or former athletes be the last runner in the relay. The first well-known athlete to light the fire in the stadium was ninefold Olympic Champion Paavo Nurmi, who excited the home crowd in Helsinki in 1952. Other famous last bearers of the torch include French football star Michel Platini (1992), heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (1996) and Australian aboriginal runner Cathy Freeman (2000).

On other occasions, the people who lit the fire in the stadium are not famous, but nevertheless symbolise Olympic ideals. Japanese runner Yoshinori Sakai was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the day the nuclear weapon Little Boy destroyed that city. He symbolised the rebirth of Japan after the Second World War when he opened the 1964 Tokyo Games. At the 1976 Games in Montreal, two teenagers — one from the French-speaking part of the country, one from the English-speaking part — symbolised the unity of Canada.


The cauldron and the pedestal it sits on are always the subject of unique and often dramatic design. These also tie in with how the cauldron is lit during the Opening Ceremony.

  • In Los Angeles in 1984, Rafer Johnson lit a "wick" of sorts at the top of the archway after having climbed a big flight of steps. The flame flared up a pipe, through the Olympic Rings and on up the side of the tower to ignite the cauldron.
  • In Barcelona in 1992, Antonio Rebollo, an archer shot a flaming arrow over the cauldron ostensibly to light it. Rebollo had in fact been ordered to miss by organisers lest the arrow fall in the stadium.[7]
  • In Atlanta in 1996, the cauldron was an artistic scroll decorated in red and gold. It was lit by boxing legend Muhammad Ali, using a mechanical, self-propelling fuse ball that transported the flame up a wire from the stadium to its final resting place.[8] At the 1996 Summer Paralympics, the scroll was lit by a paraplegic climber hoisting himself up a rope to the cauldron.
  • For the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Cathy Freeman walked across a circular pool of water and ignited the cauldron through the water, surrounding herself within a ring of fire. The planned spectacular climax to the ceremony was delayed by the technical glitch of a computer switch which malfunctioned, causing the sequence to shut down by giving a false reading. This meant that the Olympic flame was suspended in mid-air for about four minutes, rather than immediately rising up a water-covered ramp to the top of the stadium. When it was discovered what the problem was, the program was overridden and the cauldron continued up the ramp, where it finally rested on a tall silver pedestal.
  • For the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, the cauldron was lit by the members of the winning 1980 US hockey team. After being skated around the centre ice rink there in the stadium, the flame was carried up a staircase to the team members, who then lit a "wick" of sorts at the bottom of the cauldron tower which set off an impressive line of flames that traveled up inside the tower until it reached the cauldron at the top which ignited. This cauldron was the first to use glass and incorporated running water to prevent the glass from heating and to keep it clean.
  • For the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the cauldron was in the shape of a giant needle which bowed down to accept the flame from windsurfer Nikolaos Kaklamanakis.
  • In the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Stefania Belmondo placed the flame on an arched lighting apparatus, which initiated a series of fireworks before lighting the top of the 57 metres (187 ft) high Olympic Cauldron, the highest in the history of the Winter Olympic Games.[9]
  • In the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the cauldron resembled the end of a scroll that lifted out from the stadium rim and spiralled upwards. It was lit by Li Ning a Chinese gymnast, who was raised to the rim of the stadium by wires. He ran around the rim of the stadium while suspended and as he ran, an unrolling scroll was projected showing film clips of the flame's journey around the world. As he approached the cauldron, he lit an enormous wick, which then transferred the flame to the cauldron. The flame then spiralled up the structure of the cauldron before lighting it at the top. The cauldron itself was built in the early summer of 2008. The structure was built laid down on the roof of the stadium, and covered with an inflatable, air conditioned, hanger-like structure where it was painted and decorated. A day before the Opening Ceremony, the inflatable structure was taken away, and the cauldron was covered with a tarp until the very beginning of the Ceremony. On the night of August 8, during the Opening Ceremony, the cauldron mechanically slid to the edge of the stadium roof’s and tilted up into its final position. This took place during the Parade of Nations at around 10:08 PM local time. As all the attention was on the stadium’s floor and away from the darkened area of the stadium's roof, Ceremony organizers hoped to perform the operation in as much secrecy as possible. However, some athletes and spectators reported seeing the cauldron tilt upwards and rumors about the how the cauldron would be lighted began to spread among those in the stadium. Additionally, some broadcasters also noticed the newly-positioned cauldron and pointed it out to their television audiences.[10]
  • In the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, only three out of four poles came out of the ground. The athletes were to simultaneously light the base of the poles, which would then carry the flame upwards to the cauldron. Because the site of the ceremonies - BC Place - was a domed stadium, Wayne Gretzky was sent via the back of a pick-up truck to a secondary site - the Vancouver Convention Centre which serves at the International Broadcast Centre for these Olympics - to light a larger cauldron of a similar design as Olympic rules state that the flame must be in public view for the entirety of the Olympics.


A runner bearing the 2008 Olympic Torch as it passes through London

The torch ceremony is seen by some as controversial. During one incident in the 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, nine Australian students, most notably Barry Larkin, staged a hoax during the relay when the torch entered Sydney. Larkin pretended to be an Olympic athlete, carrying a fake torch made out of a burning pair of underpants and a plum pudding can on the end of a chair leg. He presented it to the mayor of Sydney, Pat Hills, and escaped before anyone realized he was an imposter.[11]

The torch has raised disputes about the sovereignty of the regions through which it passes. The 2008 Beijing Games planned for the torch to pass through the island of Taiwan before going to Hong Kong, Macau, and then mainland China. Taiwan, then led by the pro-Taiwan independence government of Chen Shui-bian, rejected this on the basis that it wished the flame to enter the country by a "third-party country" and leave by a "fourth-party country" so the torch would not "downgrade Taiwan's sovereignty." Negotiations were not successful by the deadline set by the International Olympic Committee.[12]

Plans to carry the 2008 torch to the top of Mount Everest[13] were also met with opposition by Tibetan government-in-exile and its followers. Political protest followed the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay in other parts of the world as well. In April, 2008, serious unrest occurred during protests of China's treatment of Tibet when the Olympic Torch traveled through many western cities on its world tour preceding the Beijing Olympics.

See also


  • Volker Kluge. 1997-2004. Olympische Sommerspiele – Die Chronik. Five volumes. Sportverlag except Vol. 5 (Südwest-Verlag). ISBN 3-328-00715-6; ISBN 3-328-00740-7; ISBN 3-328-00741-5; ISBN 3-328-00830-6; ISBN 3-517-06732-6.


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  1. ^ Britannica on Olympic Flame
  2. ^ "Hitler's Berlin Games Helped Make Some Emblems Popular". Sports > Olympics. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/14/sports/olympics/14torch.html?ex=1207972800&en=732b3844bc19c839&ei=5070. 
  3. ^ "Who put the Olympic flame out?". timesonline.co.uk. 2008-04-07. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article3699278.ece. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 
  4. ^ "施幸余乘龍舟傳送火炬" (in Chinese). Singtao. 2008-05-02. http://www.singtao.com/breakingnews/20080502a131407.asp. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  5. ^ "Montréal". The Olympic Museum Lausanne. International Olympic Committee. http://www.olympic.org/uk/passion/museum/permanent/summer/montreal_uk.asp. 
  6. ^ "Report" (PDF). 2008. http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_1020.pdf. 
  7. ^ Mathews, John (15 September 2000). "Ceremonial hall of shame". BBC Sport. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/olympics2000/926190.stm. 
  8. ^ 1996 Atlanta Opening Ceremonies - Lighting of the Cauldron at YouTube
  9. ^ Olympic Opening Ceremony Torino 2006 - Light of Passion at YouTube
  10. ^ "Builders reveal secrets of giant Olympic cauldron". China.org.cn. 8-13-2008. http://www.china.org.cn/olympics/news/2008-08/13/content_16214170.htm. 
  11. ^ Turpin, Adrian (2004-08-08). "Olympics Special: The Lost Olympians". The Independent on Sunday: p. 1. 
  12. ^ "Taipei Times". http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/09/12/2003378404. 
  13. ^ Agence France-Presse (April 10, 2008). "'No change in Tibet torch rally route'". Times of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/No_change_in_Tibet_torch_rally_route/articleshow/2939244.cms. Retrieved 10 April 2008. 

External links

Simple English

The Olympic Flame or Olympic Torch is a symbol of the Olympic Games.[1] A committee plans the route that it goes through, which ends at the city where the event is being hosted. Sometimes people use the torch route to make a point. During the 2008 Olympic torch relay to Beijing, people talked about and held signs that were against China's human rights record and signs that said Tibet was not a part of China.


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