The Olympic Torch is a flame that marks the start of the Olympic games, which are held in a different country every two years, alternating between the summer and winter Olympics.
In ancient Greece, the Olympics started with a lampadedromia, which means “torch race” in ancient Greek. The winner of the race would light the official flame to start the games.
The Torch Relay, however, is a tradition that started in the 20th century, during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.
Unlike the races in ancient Greece, it is not a competition, but rather a succession of athletes who relay the torch to one another to deliver it to its final destination at the games.
As with the ancient torch races, the Olympic games start once the relay is finished and the Olympic flame is lit during the opening ceremony.
The history of the Olympic Torch dates back to the time of ancient Greece. The torch was created to symbolize fire, a gift that was said to come from Prometheus, a Greek Titan who supposedly stole it from the gods of Olympus.
In ancient Greece, runners participated in Olympic torch races known as lampadedromia, or “Torch Race” in Greek. The first athlete to arrive at the designated temple, such as one dedicated to Prometheus, would be given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame which would burn during the entire event.
The modern Torch Relay event, however, marks a significant departure from the tradition of the lampadedromia races.
Like in ancient times, the modern torch is now lit by using a special kind of mirror that focuses the sun’s rays to create the flame.
Actresses who play the role of the ancient priestesses attend to the lighting ceremony, after which they pass the flame to the first runner.
From here on, the ceremony differs, in that there isn’t a race to the Olympic stadium, but rather a cooperative relay in which the torch passes from one runner to another, until it reaches its destination.
It has been transported by athletes across land, underwater, via airplanes, on boats and canoes, and even by radio signal in 1976.
The first Torch Relay was started with the Summer Games in 1936 as an idea by Carl Diem, and then a propaganda project by Joseph Goebbels, a henchman of Adolf Hitler.
There was, however, no way at the time to move the torch by land from its origin in Greece to Berlin. This prompted the construction of a series of additional bridges and roads to make the relay possible.
It also resulted in research efforts into designing mirrors and optical devices to light the torch the way it was lit according to Greek mythology.
The first torch relay for the Winter Games started in 1952 for the VI Olympic Games in Oslo, Norway, originating in Morgedal, Norway instead of Olympia in Greece.
The 1960 VIII Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, California, started with a Torch Relay that also started in Norway. The origin of the flame has consistently been Olympia, Greece, since 1964.
The Torch Relay is an event whose course runs through many nations and across several continents. The first Torch Relay, which started in Greece and ended in Berlin in 1936, took nearly 2,000 miles.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest relay in history took place at the XXIX 2008 Summer Olympics.
In this 129-day run, the torch traveled from Olympia, Greece, in a winding route across six continents and over 85,000 miles, until it reached its destination in Beijing, China.