Olympic Flame

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The Olympic Flame at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics
The Olympic Flame or Olympic Fire is a symbol of the Olympic Games. 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 Olympics in 1928, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since. The modern torch relay was introduced for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. It could be considered to be in the spirit of the eternal flame.


The Olympic Torch Relay passes through
The Olympic Torch Relay passes through Cincinnati, Ohio

Traditionally, the Olympic Torch is "lit by the Sun on Mount Olympus" and the torch carrier carries the Flame on foot to the site of the Olympic Games.

The Olympic Torch is nowadays ignited several months before the opening celebration of the Olympic Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece. Eleven priestesses (played by actresses) light the fire by placing a torch in a concave parabolic mirror which concentrates rays from the Sun.

The torch is then transported to the host city of the upcoming Olympics by means of a torch relay. Though traditionally, the fire is carried on foot, other means of transportation have been used as well. The runners have included athletes and celebrities, but many previously 'unknown' people have also carried it.

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 generally considered a great honor to be asked to light the Olympic Flame. After being lit, the flame continues to burn throughout the celebration of the Olympics and is extinguished at end of the closing ceremony of the Games.


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The 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team tipped torches to a cauldron at the base of this tower, initiating a cascade of fire that rose up the jagged spirals to light the flame at the top, which then burned throughout the 2002 Winter 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. A fire permanently burned on the altar of Hestia in Olympia. During the Olympic Games, which honoured 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.

Fire did not appear at the modern Olympics until 1928. Dutch architect Jan Wils had included a tower in his design for the Olympic stadium for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics and came up with the idea of having a fire burn throughout. On July 28, 1928 an employee of the Amsterdam electricity board lit the first Olympic fire in this so-called Marathontower, known as the "KLM's ashtray" by the locals.

The idea of an Olympic Flame was met with enthusiasm, and was incorporated as a symbol of Olympism. German sports official and sports scientist Carl Diem conceived the idea of an Olympic torch relay for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. More than 3,000 runners carried the torch from Olympia to Berlin. German track and field athlete Fritz Schilgen was the last to carry the torch, igniting the flame in the stadium. The torch relay also became part of the Olympic Games.

The Olympic Flame burned at the Winter Olympics in 1936 and 1948, but the first torch relay occurred at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo. The fire was not ignited in Olympia, but in Morgedal, Norway, in the fireplace of the home of Sondre Norheim, who pioneered the sport of skiing. The fire was also lit there in 1960 and in 1994. Except for 1956, the relay started in Olympia for all other Winter Games. In 1956, the relay began in Rome.

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 it was first transported by aeroplane in 1952, when the fire travelled to Helsinki. In 1956, the equestrian events were held separately because of strict quarantine regulations in Australia. All carriers in the torch relay to Stockholm, where these events were held instead, travelled on horseback.

Remarkable means of transportation were used in 1976, when the fire was transformed to an electronic pulse. From Athens, this pulse was carried by satellite to Canada, where a laser beam was used to re-light the fire. In 2000, the torch was carried under water by divers near the Great Barrier Reef. Other unusual means of transportation include an Native American canoe, a camel, and Concorde.

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 into 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.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000 the cauldron carrying the flame became stuck for about three minutes, then continued on its way. According to Trevor Connell (who works for Australasian Special Events), there were several theories as to what happened,

"First — a computer and/or mechanical hiccup. The other is that in order to keep the trick a secret it was never tested in full mode. The ring was hauled up by a counterbalance system, which was only tested in a 'dry run'. On the night the ring was loaded with fuel, which threw the balance out. Once enough fuel had burnt off the system balanced and then started its journey up the incline." [1] (http://www.specialevents.com.au/archiveprev/sydney2000/opening.html)


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 nine-fold Olympic Champion Paavo Nurmi, who excited the home crowd 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. (Folklore has it that the two were later married, but that was not the case.)

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


The cauldron itself, as well as 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. In Atlanta in 1996, the cauldron was an artistic scroll decorated in red and gold. At the 1996 Summer Paralympics, the scroll was lit by a paraplegic climber hoisting himself up a rope to the cauldron.

See also


  • Olympische Spiele – Die Chronik by Volker Kluge (five parts)

External links

et:OlŘmpiatuli el:Ολυμπιακή Φλόγα fr:Flamme olympique it:Fiamma olimpica nl:Olympische vlam pt:Chama OlÝmpica


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