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London Olympics Information » About the Olympics » Olympic Symbols » Olympic Flame and Torch Relay

Olympic Flame and Torch Relay

The Olympic Flame is the second most easily recognisable symbol of the Olympic Games. The tradition of lighting the Olympic Flame has been practised since ancient Olympics, which were held in Olympia. During those times, the flame was lit to symbolize the death and rebirth of Olympic heroes. However, the flame did not feature in the earlier modern Olympic Games. The lighting up of the Olympic Flame was reinstated during the 1928 Amsterdam Games. The Olympic Torch Relay, though, was for the first time introduced during the 1936 Berlin Games by Dr Carl Diem, who was a German sports administrator and the Secretary General of the Organizing Committee of the Berlin Olympic Games. On a visit to Olympia, Dr Carl Diem and Theodor Lewald envisioned a new symbolic ritual wherein a lit Olympic flame would be transported from Greece to Berlin by a relay of torch-bearers. The first flame was ignited in Olympia, Greece, on June 30, 1936, in the vestiges of the Temple of Hera by 15 white-robed maidens posing as 'priestesses', using a parabolic mirror focusing the sun's rays. The ritual was enacted under the supervision of a 'high priestess'. The torch was then relayed 3,422 kilometres from Athens to the Olympic stadium in Berlin by young runners, each of whom carried the flame for a single kilometre. This tradition has continued till this day, albeit with interesting variations. In the 1976 Games, the sacred flame took the ethereal route, when an electronic pulse extracted from the actual burning flame at Athens was propagated through a satellite to Montreal, where a laser beam was used to ignite the cauldron. In another path-breaking instance, the torch took an undersea route when Wendy Craig-Duncan, a Marine Biologist on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, carried the Olympic torch underwater on day 20 of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Torch Relay at Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef. Cutting-edge technology is used while manufacturing the torch, taking into consideration the comfort and safety of the torch-bearer and its protection from environmental factors such as wind and rain. A mixture of 65% butane (cigarette lighter fuel) and 35% propane (LP gas) has been established as fuel for the torch.


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