The Olympic Torch

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The Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch is a symbol of the Olympic Games. Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was reintroduced at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since.

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The Olympic Torch
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Vestal Virgins

The Olympic Torch today is ignited several months before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece. Eleven women, representing the Vestal Virgins, perform a ceremony in which the torch is kindled by the light of the Sun, its rays concentrated by a parabolic mirror.

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Vestal Virgins
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The Olympic Torch Relay

The Olympic Torch Relay ends on the day of the opening ceremony in the central stadium of the Games. The final carrier is often kept unannounced until the last moment, and is usually a sports celebrity of the host country. The final bearer of the torch runs towards the cauldron, often placed at the top of a grand staircase, and then uses the torch to start the flame in the stadium. It is considered a great honor to be asked to light the Olympic Flame. After being lit, the flame continues to burn throughout the Olympics, and is extinguished on the day of the closing ceremony.

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The Olympic Torch Relay
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The Olympic Torch

Olympic flame at Berlin games 1936. Flame from the ancient games was reintroduced during the 1928 Games. An employee of the Electric Utility of Amsterdam lit the first Olympic flame in the Marathon Tower of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam.

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The Olympic Torch
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The Olympic Torch Relay

In 2004, the first global torch relay was undertaken, a journey that lasted 78 days. The Olympic flame covered a distance of more than 78,000 km in the hands of some 11,300 torchbearers, travelling to Africa and South America for the first time, visiting all previous Olympic cities and finally returning to Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

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The Olympic Torch Relay
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Paavo Nurmi

Over the years, it has become a tradition to let famous athletes, former athletes and/or athletes with significant achievements and milestones be the last runner in the Olympic torch relay and have the honor of lighting the Olympic Cauldron. The first well-known athlete to light the cauldron in the stadium was ninefold Olympic Champion Paavo Nurmi, who excited the home crowd in Helsinki in 1952.

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Paavo Nurmi
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The Olympic Torch

The design of the torch used in the relay to the Games changes for each Games. They may be designed to represent a classical ideal, or to represent some local aspect of those particular Games. Some, such as Albertville in 1992 and Turin in 2006 have been designed by famous industrial designers. These design-led torches have been less popular than the more classical designs, the Turin torch in particular being criticized for being simply too heavy for the runners. The latest torch is designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby for the 2012 London Games. Despite a deeply cynical response to the logo and mascots of the London Games, this torch design appears to have been well accepted in the UK and internationally.

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The Olympic Torch
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The Olympic Torch

The torch has twice been carried across water. The 1968 Grenoble Winter Games was carried across the port of Marseilles by a diver holding it aloft above the water. In 2000 an underwater flare was used by a diver across the Great Barrier Reef en route to the Sydney Games.

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The Olympic Torch
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The Olympic Torch

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The Olympic Torch
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