The Olympic Flame Relay involves passing a flame from torchbearer to torchbearer around the world, starting in Greece and ending at the Olympic Games. The flame travels in unusual ways and events are held to celebrate it. The tradition began in 1928 and anyone can be a torchbearer. The torch is used to light the cauldron for the games.
The Olympic Flame Relay is an international event designed to involve the whole world in the Olympic Games, a symbol of brotherhood and friendship involving athletes from many countries around the world. In the course of the Olympic Torch Relay, a flame is continuously transmitted from torchbearer to torchbearer around the world, traveling from Olympia, Greece to the stadium where the Olympic Games are held, where the flame is used to light a cauldron. This cauldron remains lit for the duration of the Olympic Games.
Along the way, the Olympic Flame passes through thousands of hands and travels in highly unusual ways to an assortment of locations. As the Flame travels, events are held to celebrate it in major cities and these events also generate excitement for the Olympics. The Olympic Torch Relay typically begins several months before the scheduled Olympic Games, allowing the Olympic Flame to follow a tortuous and complex path.
Fire has many associations in many cultures. To the Greeks, fire is closely associated with Prometheus, who stole fire from the god Zeus, and a fire burned throughout the duration of the ancient Greek Olympiad. In 1928, the tradition of keeping a flame burning during the Olympics was renewed and the organizers came up with the idea of creating an Olympic torch relay starting from the former Olympic venue.
The Olympic torch relay begins with a ceremony in Greece, where a group of women dressed as priestesses light the Mother Flame using a parabolic mirror and the sun’s rays. Once the flame is lit, it is transferred to a torch designed to withstand high winds and rain and the Olympic Torch Relay begins, with the flame being carried on foot through major cities and then transported via faster methods of transportation between points on the route.
The Olympic torch relay can travel by air, in which case the flame is enclosed in a special case to comply with aviation safety regulations. The torch can also go by boat, horse, wheelchair, camel, skier, sled, snorkel, as was the case during the 2000 Olympic Games, when the Olympic Torch traveled underwater along the Great Barrier Reef, or any type of medium of transport imaginable. Anyone can be a torch bearer, although the Olympic Committee usually looks for people who have made significant contributions to their communities, from NASA scientists to the United Nations Secretary.
Once the torch arrives at the Olympic Stadium, it is used to light the cauldron for the games. Often a high-profile host nation athlete lights the cauldron and is accompanied by a procession. In some cases, the last torchbearer might make a garish rumor referencing his sport. Archers, for example, used flaming arrows to light the Olympic cauldron.