53 Incredible Facts About The Olympic Torch: The Olympic Flame

Some facts about the Olympic torch include it's lit several months before the Olympic Games take place.

Share this article

There is a significant meaning behind the Olympic torch and its flame.

The famous Olympic torch is a traditional symbol of the Olympic Games. Every year, before the Games begin, the flame is lit in Greece because this is where the first-ever Olympic Games were held.

The ancient Olympics took place in Olympia, Greece. The Olympic fire is lit many months before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games takes place. At the Sanctuary of Hera, 11 ladies who symbolize the Vestal Virgins execute a ceremony where the first flame of the Olympic torch relay is lit by the radiation from the sun, magnified by a parabolic mirror. The Olympic anthem is sung first in the ceremony, followed by the host country's national anthem, the national anthem of Greece, and finally, the waving of the flags of each participating country.

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Enriqueta Basilio, who is a Mexican sprinter, became the first woman to fire the famous Olympic cauldron. Rafer Johnson created history as he was the first African American to light the cauldron in the year 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics. Johnson, a decathlon gold medalist, was also the first-ever African American citizen to carry the US flag during an opening session at the 1960 Rome Olympics. At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Antonio Rebello was responsible for one of the more exciting lightings in the Games history. From approximately 200 feet away, the three-time Olympic medalist for archery fired a burning arrow into the cauldron. The cauldron was set alight in what appeared to be a direct strike. Years later it was discovered that Rebello had been directed to shoot the arrow outside the stadium as a safety measure. As the arrow passed, they lit the cauldron by using a remote control.

The Olympic Torch And Its Representation

The Olympic torch is a significant symbol and a long-standing ritual of the Olympic Games. The flame represents the values that people have always identified with fire and is also a sign of spirituality, wisdom, and existence. The famous Olympic torch relay conveys the passing down of this sacred fire from era to era by handing the flame from one individual to another throughout the relay.

The Olympic fire is lit in the same way for both the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics. The only two occasions when the Olympic torch was already burning in the stadium was in 1936 in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen and in 1948 at St Moritz. The method of lighting the Olympic flame takes place many months before the Olympic Games begins to allow for the torch relays to occur and the Olympic flame to arrive inside the host city. The Olympic flame lighting uses a parabolic screen and the sun's rays at the Olympic stadium. The Olympic torch is transferred to the first torch-bearer in the torch relay of the event.

Every Olympic Games has its own distinctive torch design and its own unique meaning. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, they designed the torch in such a way that when the torch was lit it featured a stunning design. It broadened to show wavy parts that were color-coded to portray the Brazilian light from the sun, which was gold at the upper side where the fire is, the landscape of hills and mountains that make up Brazil which was the green wave and the surrounding ocean which was the blue wave.

The First Olympic Torch

Have you ever wondered how the Olympic flame stays lit? The reason behind this is that the torch has a twin flame system that helps the fire survive rain and wind. The torch is kept in a lamp and tightly protected while in transportation to ensure that the fire is never extinguished. Often people wonder whether the Olympic torch has a specific name. The answer is no; it doesn't.

The first Olympic torch relay took place during 1936 at the Summer Olympic Games. The Secretary-General of the International Olympic Committee for the Berlin Games recommended that a flame be ignited at Olympia and subsequently carried on foot to Berlin, recreating the ancient Greek tradition of torch races. The inaugural Olympic torch relay for the Olympic Winter Games took place in Oslo in 1952. The relay started in Norway's Morgedal valley and later shifted to Olympia, Greece.

The Olympic torch relay that takes place in the host country concludes with the burning of the Olympic cauldron at the Olympics' major host sports complex during the opening ceremony. The final receiver of the torch relay is usually kept a secret until the very last moment. It has become a fond tradition over the years to have a popular athlete from the host country, past athletes, or athletes with noteworthy achievements and accomplishments be the final runner in the Olympic torch relay.

There is no exact time that tells us how long the Olympic flame burns for as sometimes it can exhaust during the Olympic global torch relay, though this happens rarely.

The Olympic Flame

Jan Wils, the constructor who created the stadium for the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, established the Olympic flame as the modern Olympic movement's symbol. They burn the flame way before the event begins, and then after the anthem of the Olympics, the modern Olympic Games start with the official Olympic torch relay. Just like the Olympic rings in the flag and its anthem, the Olympic torch relay is also meaningful in the modern Olympics and has become synonymous with the lead-up to the Olympic Games. Typically, the event itself generates much excitement, particularly in host nations where there is a possibility for everyday people to take part in the torch relay, often through a ballot system.

The final bearer of the torch races towards the Olympic cauldron, which is commonly positioned at the top of a marble staircase, and then uses the torch to light the fire in the stadium during the opening ceremony. The dramatic transfer of the Olympic flame from the final torch to the Olympic cauldron at the central host sports marks the symbolic start of the Games complex. It's considered a great honor to light the Olympic cauldron, much as it is to be the finisher of the Olympic torch relay, and it has been a practice to select outstanding athletes to handle this section of the ceremony. In the past other people have been chosen to light the flame in the stadium have not been well known athletes, but they have always represented Olympic principles.

The Origin And History Of The Olympic Torch

The Olympic flame was originally inspired by Greek culture and mythology. It is believed that there used to be a sacred flame that was kept alive on the altar of the temple of Hestia throughout the festival of the ancient Olympics. The fire was said to have had heavenly implications in Greek mythology, as it was considered to have been stolen from divine beings by Prometheus.

Many Greek and Roman temples, like those at Olympia, also had sacred fires. Additional fires were set at Zeus' and Hera's temples every four years when Zeus was celebrated at the Olympic Games. At the place where Hera's temple once stood, the present and the first modern Olympic flame burned.

A member of the Electric Utility of Amsterdam kindled the first contemporary Olympic flame in the High Tower of the National Stadium in Amsterdam when an Olympic flame was reinstated during the 1928 Summer Olympic Games. Since then, torch relays have been a popular and permanent fixture of the Summer Olympic Games, with relays generating much excitement and anticipation with spectators and athletes alike in the lead up to the modern Olympics, held every four years.


Written By

Kidadl Team

The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.

Was this article helpful?

Get The Kidadl Newsletter
1,000's of inspirational ideas direct to your inbox for things to do with your kids.

By joining Kidadl you agree to Kidadl’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and consent to receiving marketing communications from Kidadl.