When, at the opening cerimony of the next Olympic Games, the olympic flame is ignited by an athlete carrying a torch, the sacred fire will have come a long way from Greece, home to the original event. With some emotion we will all watch in this symbolic gesture, the spirit and purity of the olympic ideal. The flame will keep on burning throughout the several days when competitions will take place, reminding us of the selfless values that spiked the creation of the Olympic Games of the modern era. However, what we think to be a centuries-old tradition is, actually, a recent tradition, with a less noble origin: Hitler's nazi regime.
The first Olympic Games of the modern era took place in Athens in 1896. No flames or torches were used at this event. Only after the 9th Olympics, in Amsterdam in 1928, did this tradition start, with a huge torch being lit at the scene. However, during the famous Berlin Olympic Games, in 1936, under the Nazi regime, the idea took on a whole different level and it was decided that the flame should travel all the way from Greece, burning in a torch that would be carried by hundreds of athletes. This staging, typical of the Nazi regime, rose, from its inception, numerous technical difficulties.
In the first place, it was necessary to create a recipient to carry and preserve the sacred fire, a torch in stainless steel, of light weight and reduced size. But the main problem lay in the combustion time and resistance to fading away. A magnesium compound that would burn for only about ten minutes was used. During each passing of the torch, a new torch had to be lit using the previous flame, so nearly 4000 torches were needed to cover the 3187 km distance! Still, the final result, spectacular as it was, served the nazi propaganda's intentions.
After the war, the Games took place every four years again. In London, in 1948, their original intentions forgotten, the opening ritual was repeated and permanently adopted. From that moment on, the olympic torch became the subject of an exclusive design that would represent both the country and the theme of the Games.
Here are the various torches used since 1936, with a special focus on the beautiful specimen from the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, based on the old Etruscan torches. To this day, nothing has come close to it. If you would like to know them better, you can find them here.