Of Olympic Torch Relays
Torch Relay Traditions
Historians suggest the flame was born in a temple erected by the ancient Greeks to honor Hera, powerful queen of the mythological gods. Her shrine stands in the home of the lympic Games of antiquity, a cypress-shaded archaeological site in Olympia where the first recorded Games were held in 776 B.C.
The ancient Greeks kindled the flame using a skaphia (a type of crucible) which was positioned facing the sun. The sun's rays were concentrated there and set fire to the dry grass.
Use of a parabolic mirror is directly inspired by this ancient ceremony. The high priestess kindles the flame, assisted by vestals who are the only people authorized to enter the sanctuary area. The flame is then carried to the site of the public ceremony and handed to the first runner. This initial runner first carries the flame to the foot of the monument in which the heart of Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the modem Olympic movement, is interred.
From Olympia, the flame is carried across Greece to Athens, and in a ceremony at the Panathenian Stadium, the flame is handed over to the host committee for the Games that begin the New Olympiad.
Modern Torch Relay History
The Olympic flame first became a tradition of the Modem Olympic Games when an Olympic flame was lit and remained burning at the entrance to the Olympic Stadium throughout the 1928 Amsterdam Games. The lighting of the flame captured the public's imagination and has remained a traditional ceremony for the Opening Ceremony of the Games.
Conceived by Dr. Carl Diem of Germany, the modern Torch Relay was inspired by ancient Greek drawings and the writings of Plutarch. Diem created the first relay from Olympia to Berlin as part of the Opening Ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games.
On July 20, 1936, a young Greek, Konstantin Kondylis, became the first runner in the history of the modem Olympic Torch Relay. He left Olympia, torch in hand, launching a tradition that has become an integral component of each Olympic Games.
Technically, the Torch Relay does not represent the passing of a torch, but celebrates the passing of the sacred flame from one torch to the next. The Olympic flame symbolizes the light of spirit, knowledge and life. By passing the flame from one person to another in stages, the Torch Relay expresses the handing down of this symbolic fire from generation to generation.
Xth Olympiad - 1936 - Berlin, Germany
The 1936 Berlin Games began with torchbearers running the flame into the Olympic Stadium on August 1. The relay took 12 days, beginning with the flame ceremony in Olympia and passing through seven countries taking part in the Games—Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany, and their capitals. The 3,075-kilometer relay was completed solely by runners.
The first torchbearer, Greece's Konstantin Kondylis, was also the first athlete of the Modem Olympic Games to bear the symbolic flame. Fritz Schilgen, a 1931 Student World Champion in the 1500 meter event, was chosen to run the flame into the Berlin stadium because of his attractive running style.
XIVth Olympiad - 1948 - London, England
The Torch Relay for the 1948 Games began in Olympia on July 17, 1948, taking 12 days to journey through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and England. Due to civil war in Greece, the flame was transported from Olympia to the coast at Katakolon, boarded the Greek warship "Hastings" and journeyed to Italy.
The 1948 Torch Relay was the first relay to transport the flame over water; however, most of the 3,36ikilometer route was completed by 1,416 runners.
During the relay from Olympia to London, many symbolic acts were performed. Perhaps one that best mirrors the ideas of the Olympic Movement was when the first torchbearer, Corporal Dimitrelis, took off his uniform and weapons before the relay began, and ran in sports clothing as a symbolic reminder of the truce during the ancient Games.
XVth Olympiad - 1952 - Helsinki, Finland
The 1952 Torch Relay began on June 25, in Olympia, and for the first time the flame was transported by airplane from Athens to Denmark with stops in Munich and Dusseldorf, where celebrations welcomed the flame. From Denmark the flame was transported by runners, riders, cyclists, canoeists and sailors to Sweden and then to Finland.
The relay took 13 days to travel 7,870 kilometers, and 3,372 runners carried the torch. Ceremonial flames were lit in Stockholm, Hameenlina and Torino. Torchbearers were chosen by central sports organizations; some torchbearers who were chosen had narrowly missed qualifying to compete in the Games.
XVIth Olympiad - 1956 - Melbourne, Australia
The Olympic flame was ignited in Olympia on November 2, and was transported by 350 torchbearers to Athens. At the Acropolis, two warriors wearing the uniform of fighters from Marathon blocked the torchbearers way, allowing them to pass only after saying the phrase "I bring the flame from Olympia."
The flame was transferred into two miners' lamps and flown to Australia. Along the way, celebrations were held in Calcutta, Bangkok, Singapore and Djakarta prior to an official reception in Darwin.
The relay was 20,470 kilometers in length, and took 21 days to reach Melbourne using 3,118 runners. The flame was escorted by civilian and military vehicles working in three shifts.
XVIIth Olympiad - 1960 - Rome, Italy
The 2,750-kilometer relay for the 1960 Games began in Olympia on August 12. The torch was run from Olympia to Athens to the Port of Zea, where the flame was taken by ship to Syracuse, Italy, where runners completed the journey of the Flarne to Rome.
XVIIIth Olympiad - 1964 - Tokyo, Japan
On August 21, 1964, the sacred flame was lit in Olympia, Greece and began its long journey to the host city of Tokyo. Following a ceremony in Athens, the airplane carrying the flame took off, making stops in Istanbul, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
En route, the plane was damaged over Hong Kong during a typhoon and a reserve plane had to be used. It also developed problems and had to turn back to Hong Kong. While a new plane was being readied, the flame journeyed unexpectedly through Hong Kong.
To make up time, several torches were run throughout Japan and reunited at the Imperial Palace before proceeding to the Olympic Stadium. At the Olympic Stadiurn in Tokyo, a special speech was read from the first torchbearer to the last torchbearer of the 1964 Garnes.
XlXth Olympiad - 1968 - Mexico City, Mexico
The 1968 Torch Relay began in Olyrnpia, as past relays had. Leaving Athens, the flame was taken to Genoa, Italy, birthplace of Christopher Columbus, by the Greek destroyer "Navarinon."
The flame journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean, retracing the route of Columbus' voyages to the New World. At Vera Cruz, it was brought ashore by a relay of 17 swimmers. At the end of the Torch Relay, Enriqueta Basilio became the first woman ever to carry the flame and light the cauldron. Also for the first time, the flame relay was used at cultural events. The relay was 13,620 kilometers, 11,090 of which were on water. 2,778 torchbearers ran with the flame escorted by runners, cyclists, press and vehicles.
XXth Olyrnpiad - 1972 - Munich, Germany
On July 28, 1972, the Olympic flame was once again lit in the ancient city of Olympia and began its journey to Munich, Germany. When the flame crossed the border into Austria, a helicopter threw flowers on the relay's path.
Throughout the 5,399-kilometer relay, several modes of transportation beside rurmers were used, including cyclists, motorcyclists, horseback riders and, for the first time ever, wheelchair athletes.
XXIst Olympiad - 1976 - Montreal, Canada
Beginning on July 13 in Olympia, the Montreal relay lasted only five days. The flame was passed to a Canadian by a Greek runner. Then the flame was transferred to a sensor, which transmitted electrical impulses via satellite, once again lighting the flame by laser beam in Canada.
For the first time, a man and a woman ran the flame into the Olympic Stadium together, and lit the cauldron (they later married).
Over 1,200 torchbearers were used to transport the flame from Olympia to Montreal. Olive oil was used as fuel for the torches, honoring the origin of the Olympic fire.
XXIInd Olympiad - 1980 - Moscow, USSR
The Torch Relay for the 1980 Games started in Olympia on June 19, and lasted 31 days. The flame's 4,915-kilometer journey followed the route of the 1936 Torch Relay through Greece, Bulgaria and Romania before heading for the USSR.
XXIIIrd Olympiad - 1984 Los Angeles, United Sates
Appropriately enough, the Torch Relay for the 1984 Games lasted 84 days (including two days in Greece), beginning in Olympia on May 7. The flame was lit in a private ceremony with only Greek officials, representatives of the International Olympic Committee and the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and press present. The flame was brought in safety lamps by helicopter to Athens and then flown to New York to be welcomed in the United States.
On the morning of May 8, the torch relay left on its journey after a ceremony which involved Rafer Johnson, the 1960 Olympic Decathlon gold medalist (who also lit the Cauldron in Los Angeles to open the Games). The Torch Relay passed through 33 states and Washington, D.C., reaching 41 of the largest American cities.
The relay incorporated 3,636 runners in Greece and the United States. In addition to Johnson, noteworthy runners included Bill Thorpe (grandson of Jim Thorpe) and Gina Hemphill (granddaughter of Jesse Owens). Runners were chosen through the Youth Legacy Kilometer Program and were required to raise $3,000 to run with the torch for one kilometer.
XXIVth Olympiad - 1988 - Seoul, Korea
The lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia on August 23 began the Torch Relay for the 1988 Seoul Games. The relay lasted 26 days, and during the ceremony in Athens, a Korean instrumental group performed traditional Korean fob music.
The flame traveled by airplane from Greece to Cheju, on the southern tip of Korea. The Torch Relay then traveled by boat to Pusan, and then proceeded through all of Korea's provinces and historical areas.
Means of transporting the flame included runners, horses, boats, bicycles, airplanes and motorcycles. The relay was 15,250 kilometers long and approximately 1,900 runners took part.
XXVth Olympiad - 1992 - Barcelona, Spain
On June 19, the flame was once again lit at the ancient site in Olympia. It began its journey, leaving the Panathenian Stadium in Athens and was taken to Empuries, an ancient Greek colony in Spain.
The Relay took 43 days, and covered 5,940 kilometers, most of which was accomplished by runners, although in some areas cyclists were used. The route passed through 652 towns and cities, including Olympic subsites and the capitals of the autonomous regions.
The Coca-Cola Company participated in this Torch Relay as the presenter of the International Torchbearers Program, which brought numerous individuals to Spain from around the world to Participate in the Torch Relay.