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Olympic Flame

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, when a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was reintroduced at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since. 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, with the support of Joseph Goebbels, at the controversial Berlin Olympics as a means to promote Nazi ideology.[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 roles of priestesses, 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 secret until the last moment, and is usually a sports celebrity of the host country. The final bearer of the torch runs towards the cauldron, usually 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 honour to be asked to light the Olympic Flame. After being lit, the flame continues to burn throughout the Olympics.

Since the first Olympic games celebrated in the modern time, the Olympic Torch has become symbol of the peace between the continents (as well as the Olympiads, that share this role in our modern celebration).


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 The Olympic Flame at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics

The Olympic Flame from the ancient games was reintroduced during the 1928 Olympic 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. 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.

Another means of catching attention has been the lighting of the fire in the stadium. At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shot a burning arrow over the cauldron from a platform at the opposite end of the stadium. Two years later, the Olympic fire was brought into the stadium of Lillehammer by a ski jumper.

Below is a list of all Olympic torch relays.

Summer Olympic Games

Site of the Olympic Games Days Total length (in km) Total number of torchbearers Route Berlin 19368 3,422 3,422 OlympiaAthensThessaloniki(Greece) – Sofia(Bulgaria) – Belgrade(Yugoslavia) – Budapest(Hungary) – Vienna(Austria) – Prague(Czechoslovakia) – DresdenBerlin(Germany) London 194813 7,870 3,372 OlympiaCorfu(Greece) (by ship) BariMilan(Italy) – LausanneGeneva(Switzerland) – BesançonMetz(France) – Luxembourg(Luxembourg) – Brussels(Belgium) – LilleCalais(France) – DoverLondon(Great Britain) Helsinki 195220 3,365 1,416 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Aalborg- Odense- Copenhagen(Denmark) (by ship) Malmö- Gothenburg- Stockholm(Sweden) Tornio- Oulu- Helsinki(Finland). A second flame was lit in Pallastunturi (Finland) and joined the main one in TornioMelbourne 195621 20,470 3,118 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Darwin- Brisbane- Sydney- Canberra- Melbourne(Australia) Stockholm 1956(equestrian Games) 9 1,000 490 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Copenhagen(Denmark) (by ship) Malmö- Stockholm(Sweden) Rome 196014 2,750 1,529 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by ship) Syracuse- Catania- Messina- Reggio Calabria- Naples- Rome(Italy) Tokyo 196451 20,065 870 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Istanbul(Turkey) - Beirut(Lebanon) - Tehran(Iran) - Lahore(Pakistan) - New Delhi(India) - Rangoon(Burma) - Bangkok(Thailand) - Kuala Lumpur(Malaysia) - Manila(Philippines) - Hong Kong(Hong Kong) - Taipei(Republic of China) - Okinawa- Tokyo(Japan, following four different routes) Mexico City 196851 13,620 2,778 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by ship) Genoa(Italy) (by ship) Barcelona- Madrid- Sevilla- Palos(by ship) Las Palmas(Spain) - San Salvador Island(Bahamas) - Veracruz- Mexico City(Mexico) Munich 197230 5,532 6,000 Olympia- Athens- Thessaloniki(Greece) - Istanbul(Turkey) - Varna(Bulgaria) - Bucharest- Timişoara(Romania) - Belgrade(Yugoslavia) - Budapest(Hungary) - Vienna- Linz- Salzburg- Innsbruck(Austria) - Garmisch-Partenkirchen- Munich(West Germany) Montreal 19765 775 1,214 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (satellite transmission of an electronic pulse) Ottawa- Montreal(Canada) Moscow 198031 4,915 5,000 Olympia- Athens- Thessaloniki(Greece) - Sofia(Bulgaria) - Bucharest(Romania) - Kishinev- Kiev- Tula- Moscow(USSR) Los Angeles 198483 15,000 3,636 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) New YorkBostonPhiladelphiaWashingtonDetroitChicagoIndianapolisAtlantaSt. LouisDallasDenverSalt Lake CitySeattleSan FranciscoLos Angeles(USA) Seoul 198826 15,250 1,467 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Jeju- Pusan- Seoul(South Korea) Barcelona 199251 6,307 10,448 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by ship) Empuries- Bilbao- La Coruña- Madrid- Sevilla- Las Palmas- Málaga- Valencia- Palma de MallorcaBarcelona(Spain) Atlanta 1996112 29,016 13,267 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Los AngelesLas VegasSan FranciscoSeattleSalt Lake CityDenverDallasSt. LouisMinneapolisChicagoDetroit- BostonNew YorkPhiladelphiaWashingtonMiamiAtlanta(USA) Sydney 2000127 27,000 13,300 Olympia- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Guam- Palau- Federated States of Micronesia- Nauru- Solomon Islands-Papua New Guinea- Vanuatu- Samoa- American Samoa- Cook Islands- Tonga- Fiji- Christchurch- Wellington- Auckland(New Zealand) - Uluru- Brisbane- Darwin- Perth- Adelaide- Melbourne- Canberra- Sydney(Australia) Athens 2004142 86,000 3,600 Olympia- Marathonas- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Sydney- Melbourne(Australia) - Tokyo(Japan) - Seoul(South Korea) - Beijing(People's Republic of China) - Delhi(India) - Cairo(Egypt) - Cape Town(South Africa) - Rio de Janeiro(Brazil) - Mexico City(Mexico) - Los Angeles- St. Louis- Atlanta- New York(USA) - Montreal(Canada) - Antwerp- Brussels(Belgium) - Amsterdam(Netherlands) - Lausanne- Geneva(Switzerland) - Paris(France) - London(Great Britain) - Madrid- Barcelona(Spain) - Rome(Italy) - Munich- Berlin(Germany) - Stockholm(Sweden) - Helsinki(Finland) - Moscow(Russia) - Kiev(Ukraine) - Istanbul(Turkey) - Sofia(Bulgaria) - Nicosia(Cyprus) - Iraklion- Thessaloniki- Patras- Athens(Greece) Beijing 2008130 137,000 21,880 Olympia- Marathonas- Athens(Greece) (by airplane) Beijing(People's Republic of China) (by airplane) Almaty(Kazakhstan) (by airplane) Istanbul(Turkey) (by airplane) St. Petersburg(Russia) (by airplane) London(Great Britain) – Paris(by airplane) San Francisco(USA) (by airplane) Buenos Aires(Argentina) (by airplane) Dar es Salaam(Tanzania) – Muscat(Oman) – Islamabad(Pakistan) – Mumbai(India) – Bangkok(Thailand) – Kuala Lumpur(Malaysia) – Jakarta(Indonesia) – Canberra(Australia) – Nagano(Japan) – Seoul(South Korea) – Pyongyang(North Korea) – Ho Chi Minh City(Vietnam) - Hong KongMacauSanya- Wuzhishan- Wanning- Haikou- Guangzhou- Shenzhen- Huizhou- Shantou- Fuzhou- Quanzhou- Xiamen- Longyan- Ruijin- Jinggangshan- Nanchang- Wenzhou- Ningbo- Hangzhou- Shaoxing- Jiaxing- Shanghai- Suzhou- Nantong- Taizhou- Yangzhou- Nanjing- Hefei- Huainan- Wuhu- Jixi- Huangshan- Wuhan- Yichang- Jingzhou- Yueyang- Changsha- Shaoshan- Guilin- Nanning- Baise- Kunming- Lijiang- Shangri-La County- Guiyang- Kaili- Zunyi- Chongqing- Guang'an- Mianyang- Guanghan- Leshan- Zigong- Yibin- Chengdu- Shannan Prefecture- Lhasa- Golmud- Qinghai Hu- Xining- Ürümqi- Kashi- Shihezi- Changji- Dunhuang- Jiayuguan- Jiuquan- Tianshui- Lanzhou- Zhongwei- Wuzhong- Yinchuan- Yan'an- Yangling- Xianyang- Xi'an- Yuncheng- Pingyao- Taiyuan- Datong- Hohhot- Ordos- Baotou- Chifeng- Qiqihar- Daqing- Harbin- Songyuan- Changchun- Jilin- Yanji- Shenyang- Benxi- Liaoyang- Anshan- Dalian- Yantai- Weihai- Qingdao- Rizhao- Linyi- Qufu- Tai'an- Jinan- Shangqiu- Kaifeng- Zhengzhou- Luoyang- Anyang- Shijiazhuang- Qinhuangdao- TangshanTianjinBeijing(People's Republic of China)

Winter Olympic Games

Site of the Olympic Games Days Total length (in km) Total number of torchbearers Route Oslo 19522 225 94 MorgedalOslo(Norway) Cortina d'Ampezzo 19565 Rome(by airplane) VeniceCortina d'Ampezzo(Italy) Squaw Valley 196019 960 700 MorgedalOslo(Norway) (by airplane) Los AngelesFresnoSquaw Valley(USA) Innsbruck 19648 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) ViennaInnsbruck(Austria) Grenoble 196850 7,222 5,000 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) ParisStrasbourgLyonBordeauxToulouseMarseilleNiceChamonixGrenoble(France) Sapporo 197238 18,741 16,300 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) Okinawa(by airplane) TokyoSapporo(Japan) Innsbruck 19766 1,618 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) Vienna(route nr. 1) LinzSalzburgInnsbruck(route nr. 2) GrazKlagenfurtInnsbruck(Austria) Lake Placid 198015 12,824 52 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) Shannon(Ireland) Langley Air Force Base, HamptonWashingtonBaltimorePhiladelphiaNew YorkAlbanyLake Placid(USA) Sarajevo 198411 5,289 1,600 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) Dubrovnik(route nr. 1) SplitLjubljanaZagreb- Sarajevo(route nr. 2) SkopjeNovi SadBelgradeSarajevo(Yugoslavia) Calgary 198895 18,000 6,250 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) St. John’s, NewfoundlandQuébec CityMontrealOttawaTorontoWinnipegInuvikVancouverEdmontonCalgary(Canada) Albertville 199258 5,500 5,500 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (on Concorde) ParisNantesLe HavreLilleStrasbourgLimogesBordeauxToulouseAjaccioNiceMarseilleLyonGrenobleAlbertville(France) Lillehammer 199482 12,000 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) MorgedalBergenTrondheimTromsøSvalbardOslo- Lillehammer(Norway) Nagano 199851 3,486 6,901 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) Tokyo(route nr. 1) HokkaidōChibaTokyoNagano(route nr. 2) OkinawaHiroshimaKyotoNagano(route nr. 3) KagoshimaOsakaShizuokaNagano(Japan) Salt Lake City 200285 21,275 12,012 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) AtlantaSt. Augustine, FLMiamiHoustonDallasMemphisPittsburghCumberland, MarylandWashingtonBaltimorePhiladelphiaNew YorkBostonLake PlacidClevelandChicagoDetroitIndianapolisLexingtonSt. Louis- Kansas CityOmahaOklahoma CityAmarillo- Albuquerque- PhoenixLos AngelesSan FranciscoSquaw ValleyRenoPortlandSeattleJuneauBoiseBozemanCheyenneDenverSalt Lake City(USA) Turin 200675 11,300 10,000 OlympiaAthens(Greece) (by airplane) RomeFlorenceGenoaCagliariPalermoNaplesBariAncona(Italy) – San Marino(San Marino) – BolognaVeniceTrieste(Italy) Ljubljana(Slovenia) Klagenfurt(Austria) TrentoCortina d'AmpezzoMilan(Italy) Lugano(Switzerland) Bardonecchia(Italy) GrenobleAlbertville(France) Turin(Italy)


Paavo Nurmi lights the Olympic fire in Helsinki in 1952.

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.

Below is a full list of all persons who ended the Olympic Torch Relay by lighting the flame in the stadium.


The olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony, Athens 2004 Games

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 Barcelona in 1992, an archer shot a flaming arrow immediately over the cauldron to light it.[7]
  • In Atlanta in 1996, the cauldron was an artistic scroll decorated in red and gold, which some compared to a french fry box from major Olympic sponsor McDonald's and used as an example of the heavy commercialization of those Games. It was lit by boxing legend Muhammed Ali, using a string that traveled the flame 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 cauldron then rose out of the water around her and travelled up a cascasding water fall up one of the sides of the stadium, where it finally rested on a tall silver pedestal.
  • 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-meter high Olympic Cauldron, the highest in the history of the Winter Olympic Games.[9]


2008 Olympic Torch passes through London

The torch ceremony is seen by some as controversial. During one incident in the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, nine Australian students, most notably Barry Larkin, staged a hoax during the relay when the torch entered Sydney. The students wanted to protest against what they saw as "Too much reverence," to the flame, considering the Nazi origins. 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 realised he was an imposter.[10]

The torch has raised disputes about the sovereignty of the regions that it passes. The 2008 Beijing Games had initially planned for the torch to pass through the island of Taiwan before going to Hong Kong and Macau and then to mainland China. Taiwan rejected this on the basis that they wished the flame to enter the island/country by a 'third party country' and leave the island/country by a 'fourth party country', so that the torch will not downgrade Taiwan's sovereignty. Negotiations did not work out by the deadline set by the International Olympic Committee. [11]

Plans to carry the 2008 torch up the top of Mount Everest[12] have also been met with opposition by Tibetan government-in-exile and its followers. The 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay has become the focus of Chinese political issues in a similar way to that of past Olympiads. Serious unrest occurred during protests about China's treatment of Tibet in April 2008 when the Olympic Torch was paraded through many western cities on its world tour ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Extinguishing the Flame

It is not uncommon for the Olympic flame to be accidentally or deliberately extinguished during the course of the relay, and on at least one occasion the cauldron itself has gone out during the Games. To guard against this eventuality, multiple "versions" of the flame are transported with the relay or maintained in backup locations. When a torch goes out, it is re-lit (or another torch is lit) from one of the backup sources. Thus, the fires contained in the torches and Olympic cauldrons all trace a common lineage back to the same Olympia lighting ceremony. However, the lighting ceremony, relay and cauldron lighting process does not feature one flame being passed forward in an unbroken chain.

One of the more memorable extinguishings occurred at the 1976 Summer Olympics held in Montreal, Canada. After a rainstorm that doused the Olympic flame a few days after the games had opened, an official re-lit the flame using his cigarette lighter. Organizers quickly doused it again and relit it using a backup of the original flame.

When the Olympic flame came to the Panathinaiko Stadium, stadium of the 2004 Summer Olympics, to start the global torch relay, the night was very windy and the torch, lit by the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, blew out due to the wind, but was re-lit from the back up flame taken from the original ceremonial flame at Olympia.

In 2008 the Olympic torch was extinguished at least two times by Chinese officials (five times according to French police[13]) so that it could be transported in a bus amid protests while it was being paraded through Paris.[14] [15] This eventually led to the cancellation of the relay's last leg in the city.[16] The flame itself, however, remained preserved in the back-up lantern used to keep it overnight and on airplanes, and the torch is relit using this.

Organisors for the 2008 Olympic relay were informed that the 2008 Olympic torch required relighting every 15 minutes.[17]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Olympic torch Wikinews has related news: Protests surround Olympic torch relay



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This audio file was created from a revision dated 2006-01-10, and does not reflect subsequent edits to the article. (Audio help) More spoken articles
  1. ^ Britannica on Olympic Flame
  2. ^ The New York Times > Sports > Olympics > Hitler's Berlin Games Helped Make Some Emblems Popular
  3. ^ "Who put the Olympic flame out?",, 2008-04-07. Retrieved on 2008-04-07
  4. ^ "Chinese 施幸余乘龍舟傳送火炬", Singtao, 2008-05-02. Retrieved on 2008-05-02
  5. ^ International Olympic Committee - The Olympic Museum Lausanne
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ YouTube - Barcelona 92 Olimpic Games
  8. ^ YouTube - 1996 Atlanta Opening Ceremonies - Lighting of the Cauldron
  9. ^ YouTube - Olympic Opening Ceremony Torino 2006 - Light of Passion
  10. ^ Turpin, Adrian. "Olympics Special: The Lost Olympians (Page 1)", Find Articles, originally The Independent on Sunday, 2004-08-08. Retrieved on 2008-04-06
  11. ^ Taipei Times.
  12. ^ 'No change in Tibet torch rally route', Times of India, Retrieved on 10 April 2008.
  13. ^ (French)"Flamme olympique: ce qui s'est vraiment passé à Paris", L'Express, April 8, 2008
  14. ^ (2008, 4 April). Paris protests force Olympic flame to be extinguished. [Online]. Available: (Accessed on: 19 April 2008).
  15. ^ "China condemns Olympic torch disruptions", France 24, April 8, 2008
  16. ^ "Paris protests force cancellation of torch relay.",, 2008-04-07. Retrieved on 2008-04-07
  17. ^ "'Thugs' to join in Olympic torch run", News Ltd, 2008-04-17. Retrieved on 2008-04-17

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