How Olympic Torchbearer Became Divisive Symbol

In a temple dedicated to Hera, the mighty queen of the mythical gods, the flame is said to have first been kindled, according to historians.

How Olympic Torchbearer Became Divisive Symbol

In Olympia, Greece, at the cypress-shaded archaeological site where the first documented Games were conducted in 776 B.C., her shrine exists as a testament to her importance as the patron goddess of the ancient Olympic Games.

How Olympic Torchbearer Became Divisive Symbol

The ancient Greeks lit fires by placing a skaphia (a crucible) in the direction of the sun. The parched grass caught fire from the sun’s intense rays that were focused in that one spot. This old ritual provides the inspiration for today’s use of a parabolic mirror. The high priestess lights the candle with the help of the vestals, who are the only non-priests allowed in the holy space.

Finally, the first runner receives the flame at the public celebration site. This first torchbearer brings the flame to the base of the memorial where Baron de Coubertin’s heart is entombed.

Beginning in Olympia, the torch travels across Greece to Athens, where it is ceremonially transferred to the Games’ organising committee at Panathenian Stadium.

Modern Torch Relay History

At the 1928 Amsterdam Games, an Olympic flame was lighted and kept burning at the stadium’s entrance, marking the beginning of what has become a longstanding custom of the modern Olympic Games. An iconic part of every Olympic Opening Ceremony, the lighting of the torch has stood the test of time.

Dr. Carl Diem of Germany came up with the idea for the contemporary Torch Relay after studying ancient Greek artwork and the works of Plutarch. In preparation for the 1936 Summer Olympics, Diem organised the first relay from Olympia to Berlin.

Greek teenager Konstantin Kondylis ran the first modern Olympic Torch Relay on July 20, 1936. It was with the torch in his hand that he left Olympia and began a ritual that is now central to every Olympic Games.

The transfer of the sacred flame from one torch to the next is what the Torch Relay actually honours, therefore in that sense it is not a literal torch relay. The Olympic flame symbolises the illumination of spirit, intellect and life. The Torch Relay symbolises the transmission of cultural traditions and ideals from one generation to the next by passing the flame from one participant to the next.

In 1936, Berlin, Germany, Hosted The Xth Olympiad.

The 1936 Berlin Games opened with torchbearers running the flame into the Olympic Stadium on August 1. A total of seven countries and their capitals were visited over the course of 12 days, beginning with the lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia and ending with the closing ceremony in Berlin.

These countries and their capitals were Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. The 3,075-kilometer relay was completed only by runners. Greece’s Konstantin Kondylis was the first modern Olympic Games torchbearer.

Fritz Schilgen, a 1931 Student World Champion in the 1500 metre event, was chosen to sprint the torch into the Berlin stadium because of his appealing running style.