The Olympic Torch Relay began on April 21, 2016, in Olympia, Greece and will end on August 5, 2016, at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Most people, however, as much as they enjoy the torch relay and some of the other symbolisms tied in with the various opening ceremonies that are as much a part of the game as the actual sporting competitions, are not quite sure of the details behind them.
So here we provide a quick lesson on what the Olympic torch relay is all about by answering some common questions.
- The Olympic flame is lit using the sun’s rays directed through a parabolic mirror at a fuel-filled torch.
- The flame is symbolic because Ancient Greeks believed that fire was a divine element, which was central to life. In Olympia, where the Ancient Olympic Games were held, a flame is said to have burned continuously on the altar of the goddess Hestia.
- The torchbearers are often former Olympians, current athletes and popular celebrities within the host nation, as well as people chosen for their outstanding community and social involvement. For instance, Rio’s torch relay saw the Olympic flame being handed to the first torchbearer, Greece’s world-champion gymnast, Eleftherios Petrounias who then handed it to Brazil’s two-time Olympic gold medalist, volleyball legend, Giovane Gavio.
- Each torchbearer carries a separate torch, which can be purchased afterward by the individual and the flame is passed on from torch to torch.
- The Olympic torch travels several miles through different mediums, dependent on who is the host nation. For Rio 2016, the torch will travel over 12,000 miles by road and 10,000 miles by air during the 95-day torch relay. The longest Olympic torch relay was held in 2008 for the Beijing Games when the relay traversed more than 85,000 miles. Although the torch hardly ever goes out, on the slim chance that that happens, it is relit from a backup safety lantern that was also lit at the flame’s origin in Olympia. At night, the flame is kept in a special cauldron.
Each host country puts its own little stamp on the Olympic torch and Brazil mixed elements of its culture in this year’s Olympic torch. The different segments of the torch represent the sky, the mountains, the sea and the ground that make up Brazil.
One could say though that the most innovative aspect of the torch is that when the Olympic flame is passed from one torchbearer to another, known as “the kiss,” the segments of the torch open and reveal the colors of the Brazilian flag.