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Olympic Torch Relay - A History

Updated on March 17, 2012

Given the age of the Olympic Games, the Olympic torch relay does not have as long a history as you might think..You will probably be surprised to learn that the Olympic torch relay is a relatively modern addition to the Olympic Games. It was begun at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany as a way of showing the supposed superiority of Aryan youth and of the Nazi regime.

In recent years the Olympic torch relay has been used to bring attention to the various sponsors of a section of the relay (non-profit and commercial). Each torch relay has a theme which is decided upon by the Olympic Games Organising Committee (OGOC). The theme in 2008 was "Journey of Harmony,” as we know it was far from that. Many protested the Olympic Games being held in China and took their anger by trying to disrupt the torch relay, actually succeeding in putting out the flame in Paris.The theme for the 2010 Olympic torch relay was "Glowing Hearts."

Early reports indicate that the London 2012 torch relay will be kept in England and will be visiting various British sports centers.


Torch Ceremony

The Olympic torch is lit at a ceremony at the site of the original Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece; women playing ancient priestesses perform the ceremony in front of the Temple of Hera. Using the sun's rays on a parabolic mirror is the only way the flame can be lit. It is then placed in an urn and transported to the ancient stadium where the first runner receives the torch. The last runner, usually an athlete or a celebrity, lights the flame at the current Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies, and it then burns throughout the Olympic Games. The flame is put out at the closing ceremonies.

There are several backup sources of the Olympic flame to guard against accidents or in the event that it has to be put out, like in Paris. The backup flames are also lit at the Temple of Hera in the same way as the original.

Carrying the Torch

Getting the chance to carry the Olympic torch is a great honour and privilege to many people; that honour has been given to sports figures, celebrities, and regular people. The flame is transported in many ways during the Olympic torch relay, not just on foot. To get across oceans and seas, air travel is often used. The flame is also transported on horseback, wheelchair, motorcycle, etc.

In 2010, Vancouver, Canada hosted the winter Olympic Games. The Olympic torch relay was held completely in Canada; every province and territory in the country was visited by the Olympic torch. Auditions were held for the torch bearers by sponsors RBC and Coca-Cola. The torch run began in Canada on October 30th, 2009 and ended at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games on February 12, 2010. An indoor torch was lit by Nancy Green, Rick Hansen, Steve Nash, Catriona LeMay Doan, and Wayne Gretsky. The outdoor torch was lit by Wayne Gretsky alone.

There were some protests and a torch carrier was knocked to the ground in Kitchener, Ontario, but they were minor compared to what happened during the torch relay run leading up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Future torch runs

Other than the above mentioned problems, the Olympic torch run in Canada during 2010 was basically trouble-free, maybe future torch relays should be only held throughout the host country. The next two countries to host Olympic Games will be England in 2012 and Russia in 2014.

One Planet

The theme of the 2012 London Olympics will be "One Planet." They are being touted as one of the first Olympic Games to utilize "energy efficient design, use of renewable energy, environmentally friendly transport and management of green spaces as a strategy designed to assist the planet’s climate."

The theme of the opening ceremonies will be "Isle of Wonders" and will be inspired by Shakespeare. The artistic director is Danny Boyle.


Submit a Comment
  • Frieda Babbley profile image

    Frieda Babbley 

    7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

    This is chock full of fascinating Olympic torch info. Had no idea about so much of this. Great history info here. And perfect timing. Thanks so much for the links that will make it easy to follow the Olympics this year.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    One of the students I work with will be a torch bearer this year in the West Midlands, UK. We are all really excited to go and see her run....and to see the torch!! Thanks for this interesting article.

  • Nomascus concolor profile image

    Nomascus concolor 

    7 years ago from A Country called Earth

    Great hub, very informative. It confirmed what I thought about the origins of the Torch Olympic relay... Voted up

  • SimeyC profile image

    Simon Cook 

    7 years ago from NJ, USA

    Very interesting that the torch had such sinister beginnings and now is such an important part of the Olympics!

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Amazing Information!

    Thanks so much I learned alot out of this!!!

  • Uninvited Writer profile imageAUTHOR

    Susan Keeping 

    9 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

    Those who carry the torch get to keep the one they carried. They also get to keep the uniform they were issued including the red mittens.

    I heard that some torches are already being sold on Ebay.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Do the people who carry the torch get a souvenir of any kind? i.e. a plaque, pin, souvenir torch, etc??

  • compu-smart profile image

    Tony T 

    11 years ago from London UK

    Woe, i never realised it was associated with the nazis and hitlers regime!!!

    The Torch relay is a great tradition but traditions i feel dont always have a place in todays society!!

  • cgull8m profile image


    11 years ago from North Carolina

    I am also like Prem, keep the olympics, later if they want boycott China.

  • prems4u profile image


    11 years ago from KERALA Cochin

    hi am supporting the tibetians but ...Dont interrrupt the Olympic Torch Relay

  • ripplemaker profile image

    Michelle Simtoco 

    11 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

    Hi Susan, it is always good to learn something new. :-) Sometimes we just see something and do not even bother to find out how it came to be. The theme "Journey of Harmony" is truly beautiful...I hope we could find this gift amidst all the conflicts.


  • In The Doghouse profile image

    In The Doghouse 

    11 years ago from California

    This is really well researched offering great information on the ceremonial torch run. It would be a shame if it would have to end because of different groups targeting it in protest. I saw the protest in Paris, and was disheartened to see that people would use this as an arena to voice their opposition. Hopefully tradition will win even though it is a fairly new one, Thanks for your views.

  • sminut13 profile image


    11 years ago from singapore

    yep, it's really informative. thanks for sharing, good hub

  • robie2 profile image

    Roberta Kyle 

    11 years ago from Central New Jersey

    Very interesting. I had no idea that the torch ceremony was inaugurated by Hitler, but it figures--he was big on torchlit parades--not to mention burning things--like books and people. Lots of good information here--well researched and well-presented. Great stuff!


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