The Olympic flame is a tradition that comes from the ancient Greeks. The Ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece from 776 B.C. to 394, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius abolished them after Christianity took root and he deemed the games pagan. Until then however, every four years a sacred flame was lit from the sun’s rays at Olympia, and stayed lit on the altar of the goddess, Hera until the Games were completed. This flame represented the "endeavor for protection and struggle for victory." The flame was first introduced into our Modern Olympics at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. The meaning of the modern flame is somewhat in dispute. Some say the flame has come to symbolize "the light of spirit, knowledge, and life" while others say the Olympic flame symbolises purity , the endeavour for perfection and the struggle for victory, peace, and friendship. When George W. Bush greeted the flame on its way to Salt Lake City last year he added his own interpretation. "This flame stands for the skill and dedication of friendly competition," Bush said.

The flame is lit each year in Olympia by the rays of the sun bouncing off a huge parabolic mirror and igniting a torch. This year, as in the previous three attempts, there was no sun in Olympia on the designated day, so the torch was lit from a flame that had been ignited a few days earlier from a practice run and kept burning in lamps. Greek actress Thalia Prokopiou, in her role as high priestess during the ceremony, used the flame to light the Salt Lake City torch. Mitt Romney, head of Salt Lake City organizing committee said “The forebears of Olympians, of civilization, of humanity looked beyond themselves to find the source of greatness and of light. May we look to the eternal source to guide our world today.”

The flame then began its journey to the Olympic Games. It was carried by Greek runners to a ski center near the ancient ruins of Delphi, then to Athens where it burned in the all-marble Panathenian stadium, site of the first modern Olympics in 1896. The torch then headed by plane to Atlanta where it began a 65-day relay across the United States, arriving at the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City on Feb. 8.

The carrying of the flame from its orgin in Olympia to the site of the games is called the Olympic Torch Relay. Some believe that the relay also began in the Ancient Olympics, but Olympic officials confirm that the tradition of the Modern Olympic Torch Relay began in 1936 at the Berlin Games , to represent a link between the ancient and modern Olympics , and has since remained as an Olympic custom.

The torches that carried the flame this year are made of glass, silver and copper. They are designed to look like a mountain icicle, with the flame emerging from a frosted glass top. The motto of this Olympics, "Light the Fire Within," is written on each torch, along with the Salt Lake City Olympic logo. Each torch is 33 inches long, 3 inches wide at the top and 0.5 inches wide at the bottom; they weigh about 3 pounds each. No two torches are exactly the same. Each torch bearer gets to keep the torch that they carried when the flame is passed to the next participant in the relay.

At the end of each Olympics, the flame is extinguished in a ceremony, and rekindled for the next Olympics.

The Olympic flame first burned at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, and the torch relay was introduced during the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Carl Diem. The flame is now traditionally ignited by the rays of the sun at Olympia, Greece for both the Olympic Games and the Winter Olympic Games, though that was not always the case.

From 1952 to 1960, the flame for the Winter Olympics was lit at various locations, including at the house of Sorheim Norheim, a pioneer of winter sports in Norway.

The following is a list of all the final torchbearers for all of the previous Olympics.

Olympics 1936 - Berlin- Fritz Schilgen, track athlete

Olympics 1948 - London- John Mark, track athlete

Olympics 1952 - Oslo- Eigil Nansen, grandson of famous skier

Olympics 1952 - Helsinki- Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen, famous long distance runners

Olympics 1956 - Cortina d'Ampezzo- Guido Caroli, figure skater

Olympics 1956 - Melbourne- Ron Clarke, long distance runner

Olympics 1960 - Squaw Valley- Kenneth Henry, speedskater

Olympics 1960 - Rome- Giancarlo Peris, track athlete

Olympics 1964 - Innsbruck- Joseph Rieder

Olympics 1964 - Tokyo- Yoshinori Sakai, born near Hiroshima the day it was hit by the atomic bomb

Olympics 1968 - Grenoble- Alain Calmat

Olympics 1968 - Mexico City- Norma Enriqueta Basilio de Sotelo

Olympics 1972 - Sapporo- Hideki Takada

Olympics 1972 - Munich- Günther Zahn, track athlete

Olympics 1976 - Innsbruck- Christl Haas and Josef Feistmantl

Olympics 1976 - Montreal- Stéphane Préfontaine and Sandra Henderson, young track athletes

Olympics 1980 - Lake Placid- Charles Kerr, doctor

Olympics 1980 - Moscow- Sergey Belov, basketball player

Olympics 1984 - Sarajevo- Sandra Dubravcic

Olympics 1984 - Los Angeles- Rafer Johnson, 1960 decathlon champion

Olympics 1988 - Calgary- Robyn Perry, yound Canadian girl

Olympics 1988 - Seoul- Chung Sun-Man, Kim Won-Tak and Sohn kee-Chung

Olympics 1992 - Albertville- Michel Platini and François-Cyrille Grange

Olympics 1992 - Barcelona- Antonio Rebollo, Paralympic archer

Olympics 1994 - Lillehammer- Crown prince Haakon

Olympics 1996 - Atlanta- Muhammad Ali, famous boxer

Olympics 1998 - Nagano- Midori Ito, famous figure skater

Olympics 2000 - Sydney- Cathy Freeman, track athlete

Olympics 2002 - Salt Lake City- 1980 United States Ice Hockey team

Olympics 2004 - Athens- Nikolaos Kakalamanakis


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