As the Olympic Games are approaching, the Olympic torch is travelling all around Brazil. Where does this tradition come from? Speak Portuguese Brazil will tell you the story of the most famous flame in the world.
Let’s start with a bit of history and Greek mythology to explain the origins of the torch. As you know the torch is the symbol of the Olympic Games, coming to Brazil this August.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus the creator and protector of mankind, stole fire from the god of gods Zeus at the mount Olympus and gave it to humans, hence the symbol of the torch.
In ancient Greece, the flame kept burning during the whole competition. However in modern time it only appeared in competition at the summer Olympics of 1928 in Amsterdam and it has become a tradition ever since. But the tradition of the torch travelling from Greece to the host country came a bit later.
Travelling around the host country before the games to show the torch was introduced by Carl Diem during the historical 1936 Berlin Olympics hosted under the Nazi’s regime.
The torch is lit several months before each Olympics (summer and winter) during a ceremony in the ancient Olympia site, in which eleven women representing the Vestal Virgins (priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of Earth whose fire is supposed to burn for eternity), light up the fire thanks to sunlight in the Temple of Hera (Zeus’ wife) using mirrors. It then briefly travels around Greece and flies to the Game´s host country after a ceremony in The Panathinaikos stadium, in Athens.
After traveling around the host country, the relay ends in the Central stadium hosting the games. The final carrier is kept unannounced until the last moment. It is indeed a huge privilege for the last athlete (usually from the host country) to carry the torch, to climb the stairs and light up the cauldron in which the flame burns until the final day of the Olympics.
Over the years, it has become a tradition to allow famous people, athletes, actors, or politicians with significant achievements to run with the torch across the country.
Design of the torch:
The design of the torch changes for each Game. It can be designed to represent classical ideals, or some aspect of the local culture. Some, such as the one for the 1992 Albertville games and for the Winter Games of Turin in 2006, have even been designed by famous industrial designers. However some torches were heavily criticized, like the Turin torch in 2006 for being too heavy.
Sometimes a different torch is used for the opening ceremony, being bigger, in order to be seen throughout the stadium but also to light the Cauldron more easily. Usually the torch is not required to last long distances, or to be water resistant, but it does need a spectacular flame for the opening ceremony. Sometimes the Olympic flame extinguishes during the course of the relay, and even the cauldron can go out during the Games. To prevent against this eventuality, multiple copies of the flame are transported with the relay as a backup.
The RIO 2016 Torch:
The Torch elaboration was made by the São Paulo based design studio Chelles & Hayashi after a national contest regrouping 76 agencies, judged by 11 experts. The design was made in collaboration with the organizing committee.
The Torch has triangles running on the length of the torch’s body referring the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. There is a floating effect on each segment of the torch remembering the efforts of the athletes. The movement of these segments is one of the major innovations of the torch, as each segment opens up and widens when the flame is passed from one torch to another which is known as “the kiss of the torches”.
Upon expanding, the segments reveal the elements representing Brazilian– diversity, energy and nature – represented by the sea, mountains, sky and sun, and the colors of the Brazilian flag. Crafted from recycled aluminum and resin with a satin finish, the torch weighs between 1kg and 1.5kg and stands 63.5cm high when closed and 69cm when opened.
“The design of the Rio 2016 torch was inspired by the Olympic Spirit, our country’s nature, and the harmonious diversity and energy of our people,” said Beth Lula, Rio 2016's brand director.
To conclude we could say that the flame represents the spirit of the games, and the strength of the athletes, whereas the torch itself is elaborated to symbolize the country organizing the games.
Are you going to be in Rio for the Games? Speak Portuguese Brazil will!