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.