Why Is There an Olympic Torch?


Quick Answer

The torch relay from Olympia began at the 1936 games in Berlin; devised by Carl Diem as a propaganda ploy for the Nazis, it afterwards became an Olympic tradition. In ancient Greece, a fire was lit by the sun and burned until the close of the games. The practice of maintaining an Olympic flame was revived at the 1928 games in Amsterdam.

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Full Answer

The Olympic flame is the fire that is kept burning from the beginning to the conclusion of the Olympic Games, and the Olympic torch is the vessel by which the flame is transported from the birthplace of the Olympics in Olympia, Greece, to the site of the current games. According to the International Olympic Committee, the flame represents the purity and positive values associated with fire.

Several months before the opening ceremony of the games, the flame is lit by the light of the sun in Olympia, Greece, using a parabolic mirror. At the Temple of Hydra, 11 women representing vestal virgins perform the ceremony. The torch makes a short relay tour of Greece, and then after a ceremony in Athens begins its journey to the host city. Usually there is not one torch, but many. For the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, there were 14,000 torches and 14,000 runners. The torches have traveled by foot, bicycle, horseback, camel, canoe, plane and many other conveyances to some of the most remote parts of the Earth. For the Sochi Olympics, torches went to the world's deepest lake in Siberia, the North Pole via nuclear-powered icebreaker, the top of Mount Elbrus, Russia's highest peak and the International Space Station.

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