What is the Olympic torch relay?

The delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics is started for July 23, 2021, amidst mounting opposition in Japan as COVID-19 cases surge. The nation-wide Olympic Torch Relay, involving thousands of runners, is likely to start in March. What is the torch relay? What is the tradition behind it? Let’s see.

The Olympic flame is an integral part of the Olympic Games. Symbolising hope and peace, the flame is lit months before the Games, using a parabolic mirror, fuel-filled torch and the heat from the rays of the sun, in Olympia, Greece. Did you know it was in Olympia that the ancient Olympic Games originated?

Tradition of Olympic flame

The tradition of the flame dates back thousands of years to ancient Greece where a sacred fire was kept burning at the altar of Goddess Hestia throughout the conduct of the Olympics. Fire had divine connotations in Greek mythology and the flame was kindled using the sun’s rays, to ensure its purity, and a skaphia, a type of crucible (container).

The Olympic flame has become part of the modern Olympics ever since it first appeared at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. The flame-lighting ceremony marks the start of the Olympic torch relay. The flame is carried around the host nation for over a hundred days before being transported to the venue of the Games to light the Olympic cauldron (a large, round structure) at the opening ceremony. The flame will continue to burn for the entire duration of the Games before being put out during the closing ceremony.

The torch relay

How did the torch relay come to be associated with the Games? While the flame had ancient Greek connection, the torch relay had its origins in Nazi Germany. For the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Carl Diem, chief of the organising committee, came up with the idea for the first-ever torch relay from Olympia to Berlin. The relay brought people together to celebrate the spirit of the Olympic movement and is continued to this day. The torch relay, which passes the flame from one torch to the next, has become a symbol of peace and unity ever since it was introduced. The flame will be carried by thousands of people from Olympia to the host country. The relay comes to an end with the last torch-bearer lighting the cauldron at the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Games.

The Tokyo Olympic flame

Amid coronavirus fears, the Olympic Torch Relay for Tokyo 2020 began with the lighting of the Olympic flame at a small ceremony sans spectators in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera, in Olympia, on March 12, 2020, before it was transported by a special jet to Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Following the postponement of the Games, the Olympic flame is spending a record amount of time in the host country. A torch relay is expected to be conducted before the Opening Ceremony, in March.

Quick facts

  • The first person to set off on the modem Olympic Torch Relay on July 20, 1936 from Olympia was Greek athlete Konstantin Kondylis.
  • Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of the High Priestess, lit the torch of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games on March 12, 2020.
  • Greek shooting Olympic champion Anna Korakaki was the first torch-bearer during the flame lighting ceremony at Olympia, Greece, in March 2020.
  • The Greek leg of the torch relay was scrapped one day after the lighting ceremony in Olympia to avoid crowding.


Picture Credit : Google