Illuminating the origins of the torchLighting the main stadium throughout the Olympic Games, the sacred Olympic fire is the foremost symbol of the Olympic Games. A burning torch served as emblem for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, while the 2000 Sydney Olympics had a flame-bearer as its symbol.
The concept of sacred fire goes back to the Olympics of ancient times. The sacred fire burned in the shrine of Zeus throughout the Olympics, according to records. It is also thought to be related to the myth of Prometheus, who gave fire ― which once belonged exclusively to the gods ― to mankind. Thus, the sacred fire is thought to represent humanity’s liberation, intelligence, strength and innocence.
The modern-day Olympics did not feature the fire until the 1928 Amsterdam Games. At that time, it was lit without a torch relay.
That relay tradition came into being at the 1936 Berlin Games, after an anthropologist and a choreographer suggested a torch relay from Greece to Berlin, an idea that met Adolf Hilter’s political objectives.
Nowadays, the process of carrying the torch has grown into one of the most celebrated aspects of the Olympics.
The sacred Olympic fire is lit by the sun’s beams at the shrine of Hera, the cradle of ancient Olympia. Women dressed as ancient priests light the flame and pass it to the first runner. Later on, numerous luminaries, including famous athletes, will take turns carrying the torch.
After being lit on March 25, the torch for the 2004 Olympics was carried through the cities of Greece before leaving for Australia in June. Including Greece, the flame will be carried across 27 countries on five continents, over a distance exceeding 78,000 kilometers (48,467 miles).
The torch passed through Seoul on June 7, and returned home to Greece on July 8 from Larnaca, Cyprus. Since July 13, torch-bearers have passed through the far-flung Greek isles and will arrive at Athens Olympic Stadium for the Aug. 13 opening.
Korea boasts its own torch relay for national sports competitions. Since 1955, a flame has been carried from Mount Mani on the island of Gangwhado to the event’s main stadium.
by Hur Jin-seok
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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