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Olympic Torch Relay history and its modern revival

Updated:2008-05-20 11:15 | Source:BOCOG

The history of Olympic Torch Relay
The first runner of Olympic Torch, the young athlete
Konstantinos Kondylis

Fire is a sacred symbol dating back to prehistoric times. In ancient Greece it symbolized the creation of the world, renewal and light. It was also the sacred symbol of Hephaestus, and a gift to the human race from Prometheus, who stole it from Zeus. At the centre of every city-state in ancient Greece there was an altar with an ever-burning fire and in every home the sacred Flame burned, dedicated to Hestia, goddess of the family.

Torch Relay races started in ancient Greece as religious rituals held at night. Soon they turned into a team athletic event, initially among adolescents, and further developed to become one of the most popular ancient sports. The enchanting power of fire was a source of inspiration. Sacred flames lit by the rays of the sun always burned in Olympia, in an altar dedicated to Hestia. Fire was ignited with the help of a concave mirror, which has the ability to concentrate the rays of the sun on a single spot. When the head priestess touched that point with the Torch, the Flame was lit.

The Ancient Greeks held a "lampadedromia" (the Greek word for Torch Relay), where athletes competed by passing on the Flame in a relay race to the finish line. In ancient Athens the ritual was performed during the Panathenaia fest, held every four years in honour of the goddess Athena. The strength and purity of the sacred Flame was preserved through its transportation by the quickest means; in this case a relay of Torchbearers. The Torch Relay carried the Flame from the altar of Prometheus to the altar of goddess Athena on the Acropolis. Forty youths from the ten Athenian tribes had to run a distance of 2.5 kilometers in total.

For the modern Olympic Games the sacred Flame is lit in Olympia by the head priestess, in the same way as in antiquity, and the ritual includes the athletes' oath. The Flame is then transmitted to the Torch of the first runner, and the journey of the Torch Relay begins –its magic still touching people today.

The priest of the Olympic Flame surrounded by Vestal Virgins performs a ceremony on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. \ Mandatory Credit: IOC Olympic Museum /Allsport (Credit: Getty Images)

Olympic Torch Relay history and its modern revival (photo attached)
The priest of the Olympic Flame surrounded by Vestal Virgins
performs a ceremony on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
Mandatory Credit: IOC Olympic Museum /Allsport
(Credit: Getty Images)

The Torch Relay and its modern revival

Torch Relay is a non-competitive replication of the ancient Flame relay and a symbolic celebration of the Olympic Games. In a prophetic speech at the end of the Stockholm Games, on June 27, 1912, Baron Pierre de Coubertin said:

"And now… great people have received the Torch… and have thereby undertaken to preserve and… quicken its precious Flame.

Lest our youth temporarily… let the Olympic Torch fall from their hands… other young people on the other side of the world are prepared to pick it up again."

The Torch Relay, as the opening of the Olympic celebration, was revived in the Berlin Olympiad in 1936 and since then the Torch Relay has preceded every Olympic Summer Games. Starting from Olympia and carried by the first runner, the young athlete Konstantinos Kondylis, the Flame traveled for the first time hand to hand until it reached the Berlin Olympic Stadium. Since, the Flame's magic has marked and has been identified with the beginning of the Games.

Olympiads that followed, the Torch Relay continued to play an important role, having been enriched with the characteristics and cultures of the host countries. The choice of the athlete who lights the Flame in the Olympic stadium is always symbolic to the host country.

For the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, the Flame followed a route in homage to the Greek and Roman civilizations. It was carried from Piraeus to Rome on the ship "Americo Vespucci" and passed through some of the best-known or important historical monuments of the two countries. It was the first time that the event was covered by television.

In the Mexico Olympiad in 1968, the Flame followed the route taken by Christopher Columbus, and the athletics champion Enriqueta Basilio was the first woman to light the Flame in the Olympic stadium. For the Montreal Games in 1976, the Flame traveled by satellite from Athens to Ottawa, and in the 1992 Games in Barcelona a Paralympic Archery medalist Antonio Rebollo lit the Flame in the stadium with a burning arrow.

In Sydney 2000, the Flame made its journey underwater in the Great Barrier Reef and covered the longest distance in the history of the Games so far.

Editor : Shi Taoyang

Opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics