The Olympic Torch Relay is one of the most exciting events for any host country. For the host country of any Olympics, one of the most anticipated events is the Olympic torch relay leading up to the start of the games. The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games held in Vancouver, Canada have proved to be no exception with thousands of spectators joining in celebration as the torch makes its way across the country.
The Olympic torch will be carried by more than 12,000 torchbearers and pass through more than 1000 Canadian communities and points of interest before arriving in Vancouver on February 12, 2010, making it a source of national unity and pride for many Canadians.
Of course, a large part of the excitement surrounding the event is due to the significance of the Olympic torch. The Olympic torch, or Olympic flame, is one of the most inspiring symbols of the present day Olympic Games, representing the principles of peace, friendship and brotherhood that date back to the first Olympics in ancient Greece.
The Olympic Flame of Ancient Greece
According to Greek legend, Prometheus, a titan known for his quick intelligence and support of humankind, stole fire from Zeus, the king of the gods, and gave it to the humans. Zeus punished Prometheus by tying him to a rock, where his liver is eaten each day by an eagle, only to grow back during the night to be eaten again.
Since fire was believed to have divine connotations, the Greeks continually burned a fire in Olympia to honor Hestia, goddess of the hearth and a sister to Zeus. During the ancient Olympics, additional fires where lit to honor Zeus.
The Olympic flame was incorporated into modern day Olympics in 1928.
The Beginning of the Olympic Torch Relay
The first modern day Olympic torch relay was started by Dr. Carl Diem, a German sports historian and one of the main organizers behind the 1936 Olympic Summer Games in Berlin. Along with his partner Theodor Lewald, Diem came up with the idea for a torch relay as a symbolic gesture to honor the ritual flame of the ancient Greek games.
In 1936 homage to this ritual, Diem planned a relay route that would carry the Olympic flame across the nearly 3500-kilometer stretch from Olympia, Greece to the Olympic stadium in Berlin. The flame was kindled in the remains of the Temple of Hera using a mirror to reflect the sun’s rays, a tradition that has remained virtually unbroken to this day.
Each Olympic Torch Relay reaches its conclusion during the opening ceremonies of each Summer or Winter Olympic Games. During the celebration, the torch is brought into the stadium and passed from one person to another until it reaches the final bearer. This person is usually a respected, well-known athlete or figure from the host country. The last torchbearer uses the torch to light the Olympic flame, which burns throughout the entire Olympic event.
The Olympic flame is extinguished during the closing ceremony of each Olympics; until it is ignited once again to kick start the next summer or winter Olympics.
Olympic Torch Relay Facts
The tradition of starting the Olympic torch relay in Greece and transporting it to the host country has remained intact over the years. In 1952, the relay was introduced as part of the Olympic Winter Games in Oslo, Norway. To date, the torch has traveled to 19 host countries and been a part of 34 Olympic games.
Although runners have generally carried the Olympic torch in hand, several other methods of transportation have been used throughout the years, including dragon boat, airplane, canoe, horseback and camel. In 1978, the Olympic flame was transformed into a radio signal, which was then transmitted by satellite from Greece to Canada where it was used to trigger a laser beam to relight the flame. A specially made torch was even carried underwater by divers along the Great Barrier Reef leading up to the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia.
When the Olympics returned to Athens during the summer of 2004, the first global torch relay was held. This relay spanned 78 days and more than 78,000 kilometers, visiting all previous host cities and make its first trip to both Africa and South America.
The 2010 Olympic Torch Relay across Canada is the longest domestic relay in the history of the torch. At its completion, the relay will have spanned more than 100 days and the torch will have traveled more than 45,000 kilometers.