In 1936, the chairman of the organizing committee for the 1936 Olympic Games, Carl Diem, suggested what is now the modern Olympic Torch relay. The flame was kindled in Olympia, home of the ancient Olympics, and then relayed first in Greece and then transported all the way to Berlin via a torch relay (see our list of Torch Transport Modes).
The lighting of the flame for the cauldron in the Olympic stadium became a highlight of the opening ceremony when first done in 1936, and this tradition has continued for subsequent Olympic Games.
Each Olympic Games organizing Committee has designed a unique torch for the relay. There are descriptions of each torch below.
1936: The first Olympic torch was designed by Walter Lemcke, who also carved the eagles on the Berlin Air Ministry, and were made by the Krupp Company (better known for providing weapons for two world wars). The torch was made of polished steel. The torch weighed 462 grams, was 27cm tall; 155mm diameter of the top and 87mm diameter at the bottom. The fuel was Magnesium based.
On the handle was the inscription "fackelstaffel-lauf olympia-berlin 1936" (in German meaning "Olympic Torch relay Berlin 1936"), with Olympic rings and the German eagle superimposed. On the bottom part of the torch was the line of the flame's route from Olympia to Berlin with cities marked Berlin, Dresden, Prag, Wien, Budapest, Belgrad, Sofia, Saloniki, Delphi, Athens and Mount Olympia.
On the platform was the inscription "organisazions-komitee für die xi. Olympiade berlin 1936 als dank dem träger" (in German meaning "Organization Committee for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, thanks to the carrier").
1948: The torch for the London Games was designed by Ralph Laver and was said to be inspired by the torches of ancient Greece and Rome, with a chalice-shaped top.
1952: The Helsinki Olympics torch was of a conical shape, on the bottom part of the burner is the inscription "XV Olympia Helsinki 1952" and on the rings underneath "Helsinki Helsingfors". Helsingfors is the original name of the city of Helsinki. The handle was made of lacquered wood.
1956: This torch had a very similar design to the torch of the 1948 London Games. On the base of the chalice-shaped top was the Olympic rings and inscription "XVI Olympiad Melbourne 1956".
1960: This torch was based on a classic model, inspired by the torches reproduced on ancient monuments. On the base there is an inscription: "Giocchi della XVII Olympiade", meaning "Games of the 17th Olympiad".
1964: The torch for the 1964 Olympics was made of a cylindrical tube covered in stainless steel and filed with gunpowder and smoke. The support was designed to go with the torch and was made of lightweight aluminium. The inscription "XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964" is inscribed alongside the Olympic rings.
1968: The Mexico City torch design recreates the "Mexico 68" logo that is featured on the emblem and posters. The torch is cone-shaped, grooved and carved, and bears the inscription "MEXICO 68" around the rim at the top.
1972: A torch design like that used in 1962. On the combustion tube is inscribed "Spiele der XX Olympiade München 1972" (in German "Games of the 20th Olympiad Munich 1972"). On the handle are the Olympic rings and the emblem of the Games - a crown of rays of light.
1976: The torch designers for the Montreal Games chose a functional design made from lightweight aluminium, to assist each runner who had to run one kilometer holding the torch. The black top part was chosen with the aim of making the flame more visible in photographs.
1980: Soviet engineers broke from tradition for their revolutionary torch for the Russian Games. In reference to Cold War tensions of the time the design incorporated a small red star.
1984: The leather handle features a metallic ring and the caption "Games of the XXIII Olympiad Los Angeles 1984" with the Olympic motto "Citius Altius Fortius" and the picture of the Memorial Coliseum. The right to be part of the torch relay in Los Angeles 1984 was sold for $3,000 a kilometer, over Greek protests, although the $11 million raised went to local youth groups.
1988: The torch for the 198 Seoul Olympics had a leather handle. At the top of the leather handle is the caption: "Games of the XXIVth Olympiad Seoul 1988", and the emblem together with a Korean drawing.
1992: This torch was created by the Barcelona industrial designer André Ricard. The caption on the handle alongside the Games emblem was "XXV Olimpiada Barcelona 1992".
1996: The torch for the Atlanta Games was the tallest of all Olympic torches so far, and the only one designed to be grasped in the middle. The torch was modelled on a cluster of reeds bound with twine.
2000: This torch was inspired by the architecture of the Sydney Opera House, the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and the subtle curve of the boomerang. The torches three layers are representative of earth, fire and water.
2004: The Athens torch was inspired by an olive tree leaf. The design was selected to enhance the flame with its upward dynamic shape. Its ergonomic curved design establishes the torch as the continuation of the flame, which which in turn rises as a continuation of the torchbearer's hand. The torch weighed 700 grams and was 68 cm long, and made of metal (magnesium) and wood (olive tree).
2008: The red curved torch was inspired by the shape of a traditional Chinese scroll. It was inscribed with swirling graphics designed to evoke the phoenix, a key totem of the games, and 'clouds of promise'. The torch relay was not without controversy, with the journey to Beijing disrupted by protestors against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
The torch for the 2012 London Olympics was designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. The 800mm long gold colored torch is made from hi-tech aluminum casing covered in a mesh of 8,000 holes – one for each runner and mile covered during the relay.
The torch was designed by Chelles & Hayashi, and manufactured by Recam Làser. It is 69 cm long and weight 1.5 kg.
The torch is composed of segments, which will open up once the torch is lit. The highest part represents the sun. The green represents nature surrounding the host city. The aquamarine represents the waters surrounding the host nation and city. The blue represents the esplanades of Copacabana and Ipanema.
The Olympic torch was designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, the design is inspired by cherry blossoms, with 5 petal-shaped columns around the tip of the torch, and a rose-gold "sakura gold" color finish. The cheery blossom (or sakura as it's known in Japan) is is a big part of Japanese culture.
The construction of the torch incorporated 30 percent recycled aluminum taken from the prefabricated housing units used in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.
The design of the Olympic torch by French designer Mathieu Lehanneur. The torch's design is based on symmetry and curves, with water representing the city of Paris by the Seine, but also the torch's journey from Olympia.
The torch is made of steel and 70cm tall and weighing 1.5kg. The torch is symmetrical on all sides, featuring a golden ring separating the smooth top and sculpted bottom with a glossy mirror finish on a rippled surface, evoking the feeling of rippled water.
The Olympics and the Paralympics torches are essentially the same, the main difference the symbols around the center.
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- Paris 2024 Torch Relay
- About the Winter Olympics torch relay