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, 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.
Since the first Olympic games celebrated in modern time, the Olympic Torch has become a symbol of the peace between the continents (as well as the Olympians that share this role in our modern celebration).
The Olympic 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 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.
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 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, 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. 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. The arrow wasn't intended to make it into the cauldron, but to pass over a stream of natural gas which keeps the caulderon burning once activiated. Two years later, the Olympic fire was brought into the stadium of Lillehammer by a ski jumper. In Beijing 2008, Li Ning 'runs' on air around the Bird's Nest and lights the flame.
Below is a list of all Olympic torch relays.
|Site of the Olympic Games||Days||Total length (in km)||Total number of torchbearers||Route|
|Berlin 1936||8||3,422||3,422||Olympia – Athens – Thessaloniki (Greece) – Sofia (Bulgaria) – Belgrade (Yugoslavia) – Budapest (Hungary) – Vienna (Austria) – Prague (Czechoslovakia) – Dresden – Berlin (Germany)|
|London 1948||13||7,870||3,372||Olympia – Corfu (Greece) (by ship) Bari – Milan (Italy) – Lausanne – Geneva (Switzerland) – Besançon – Metz (France) – Luxembourg (Luxembourg) – Brussels (Belgium) – Lille – Calais (France) – Dover – London (Great Britain)|
|Helsinki 1952||20||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 Tornio|
|Melbourne 1956||21||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 1960||14||2,750||1,529||Olympia - Athens (Greece) (by ship) Syracuse - Catania - Messina - Reggio Calabria - Naples - Rome (Italy)|
|Tokyo 1964||51||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 1968||51||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 1972||30||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 1976||5||775||1,214||Olympia - Athens (Greece) (satellite transmission of an electronic pulse) Ottawa - Montreal (Canada)|
|Moscow 1980||31||4,915||5,000||Olympia - Athens - Thessaloniki (Greece) - Sofia (Bulgaria) - Bucharest (Romania) - Kishinev - Kiev - Tula - Moscow (USSR)|
|Los Angeles 1984||83||15,000||3,636||Olympia - Athens (Greece) (by airplane) New York – Boston – Philadelphia – Washington – Detroit – Chicago – Indianapolis – Atlanta – St. Louis – Dallas – Denver – Salt Lake City – Seattle – San Francisco – Los Angeles (USA)|
|Seoul 1988||26||15,250||1,467||Olympia - Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Jeju - Pusan - Seoul (South Korea)|
|Barcelona 1992||51||6,307||10,448||Olympia - Athens (Greece) (by ship) Empúries - Bilbao - La Coruña - Madrid - Sevilla - Las Palmas - Málaga - Valencia - Palma de Mallorca – Barcelona (Spain)|
|Atlanta 1996||112||29,016||13,267||Olympia - Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Los Angeles – Las Vegas – San Francisco – Seattle – Salt Lake City – Denver – Dallas – St. Louis – Minneapolis – Chicago – Detroit - Boston – New York – Philadelphia – Washington – Raleigh – Miami – Birmingham - Atlanta (USA)|
|Sydney 2000||127||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 - Queenstown - Christchurch - Wellington - Rotorua - Auckland (New Zealand) - Uluru - Brisbane - Darwin - Perth - Adelaide - Melbourne - Canberra - Sydney (Australia)|
|Athens 2004||142||86,000||11,360||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 2008||130||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 Kong – Macau – Sanya - 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 - Tangshan – Tianjin – Beijing (People's Republic of China)|
|Site of the Olympic Games||Days||Total length (in km)||Total number of torchbearers||Route|
|Oslo 1952||2||225||94||Morgedal – Oslo (Norway)|
|Cortina d'Ampezzo 1956||5||Rome (by airplane) Venice – Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy)|
|Squaw Valley 1960||19||960||700||Morgedal – Oslo (Norway) (by airplane) Los Angeles – Fresno – Squaw Valley (USA)|
|Innsbruck 1964||8||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Vienna – Innsbruck (Austria)|
|Grenoble 1968||50||7,222||5,000||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Paris – Strasbourg – Lyon – Bordeaux – Toulouse – Marseille – Nice – Chamonix – Grenoble (France)|
|Sapporo 1972||38||18,741||16,300||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Okinawa (by airplane) Tokyo – Sapporo (Japan)|
|Innsbruck 1976||6||1,618||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Vienna (route nr. 1) Linz – Salzburg – Innsbruck (route nr. 2) Graz – Klagenfurt – Innsbruck (Austria)|
|Lake Placid 1980||15||12,824||52||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Shannon (Ireland) Langley Air Force Base, Hampton – Washington – Baltimore – Philadelphia – New York – Albany – Lake Placid (USA)|
|Sarajevo 1984||11||5,289||1,600||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Dubrovnik (route nr. 1) Split – Ljubljana – Zagreb - Sarajevo (route nr. 2) Skopje – Novi Sad – Belgrade – Sarajevo (Yugoslavia)|
|Calgary 1988||95||18,000||6,250||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) St. John’s, Newfoundland – Québec City – Montreal – Ottawa – Toronto – Winnipeg – Inuvik – Vancouver – Edmonton – Calgary (Canada)|
|Albertville 1992||58||5,500||5,500||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (on Concorde) Paris – Nantes – Le Havre – Lille – Strasbourg – Limoges – Bordeaux – Toulouse – Ajaccio – Nice – Marseille – Lyon – Grenoble – Albertville (France)|
|Lillehammer 1994||82||12,000||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Morgedal – Bergen – Trondheim – Tromsø – Svalbard – Oslo - Lillehammer (Norway)|
|Nagano 1998||51||3,486||6,901||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Tokyo (route nr. 1) Hokkaidō – Chiba – Tokyo – Nagano (route nr. 2) Okinawa – Hiroshima – Kyoto – Nagano (route nr. 3) Kagoshima – Osaka – Shizuoka – Nagano (Japan)|
|Salt Lake City 2002||85||21,275||12,012||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Atlanta – St. Augustine, FL – Miami – Houston – Dallas – Memphis – Pittsburgh – Cumberland, Maryland – Washington – Baltimore – Philadelphia – New York – Boston – Lake Placid – Syracuse - Cleveland – Chicago – Detroit – Fort Wayne – Indianapolis – Cincinnati - Lexington – St. Louis - Kansas City – Omaha – Wichita - Oklahoma City – Amarillo - Albuquerque - Phoenix – Los Angeles – San Francisco – Squaw Valley – Reno – Portland – Seattle – Juneau – Boise – Bozeman – Cheyenne – Denver – Salt Lake City (USA)|
|Turin 2006||75||11,300||10,000||Olympia – Athens (Greece) (by airplane) Rome – Florence – Genoa – Cagliari – Palermo – Naples – Bari – Ancona (Italy) – San Marino (San Marino) – Bologna – Venice – Trieste (Italy) Ljubljana (Slovenia) Klagenfurt (Austria) Trento – Cortina d'Ampezzo – Milan (Italy) Lugano (Switzerland) Bardonecchia (Italy) Grenoble – Albertville (France) Turin (Italy)|
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 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.
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. 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 realized he was an imposter.
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.
Plans to carry the 2008 torch up the top of Mount Everest 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.
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.
At the 2004 Summer Olympics, when the Olympic flame came to the Panathinaiko Stadium 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) so that it could be transported in a bus amid protests while it was being paraded through Paris. This eventually led to the cancellation of the relay's last leg in the city. 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.
The currently designed torch has a safeguard built into it. There are two flames inside the torch. There is a highly visible (yellow) portion which burns cooler and is more prone to extinguish in wind and rain, but there is also a smaller hotter (blue) flame akin to a pilot light hidden inside the torch which is protected from wind and rain and is capable of relighting the cooler more visible portion if it is extinguished. The fuel inside the torch lasts approximately 15 minutes before the flame is exhausted and needs to be relit. Several back up flames are taken along the ceremonial journey in case the flame is extinguished.
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