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Carrying a torch for tradition

(CNN) — The Olympic flame on Monday began its 34-day journey around the world ahead of the 2008 Beijing Games. Here are some facts about the centuries-old traditions behind the relay and its modern development.

The torch is a tradition carried over from ancient Greece when fire was revered as a gift from the god Prometheus. Greeks would hold relay races, passing a torch between athletes and light a cauldron during their games as a symbol of purity, reason and peace.

The flame was reintroduced to the Olympics at the 1928 Amsterdam Games but the first modern torch relay was at the 1936 Berlin Summer Games when a flame was lit in Olympia, Greece and carried to the opening ceremony in Germany. Since the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria every Olympics has begun with a torch relay from Greece to the opening ceremony.

Each torch must be capable of withstanding wind, rain, sleet, snow and extremes of climate. It must carry enough fuel to last its leg of the journey but be light enough for each runner to carry comfortably.

Although the design of the torch varies from year to year, the overall modern look was created by a Disney artist, John Hench, who created the torch for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 torches are made to carry the flame for each relay.

Though the original flame for any Olympic relay is still lit by the sun using a parabolic mirror, modern torches are powered by pressurized liquid fuel. Earlier incarnations burned a variety of materials, including olive oil and gunpowder. At the 1956 games a mixture of magnesium and aluminum used to light the final torch produced burning chunks that fell and burned the runner’s arm.

A back-up flame is always carried alongside the relay in case a torch goes out. In the 1998 run-up to the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, the torch reportedly went out four times in one day as the flame was battered by heavy snow and winds of up to 72 kilometers an hour.

The flame has been transported by plane, boat, underwater and even through space. On aircraft, where open flames are not allowed, it is usually stored inside an enclosed lamp similar to ones used by miners. Ahead of the 2000 Sydney Games, a special torch was designed to burn underwater for a trip across the Great Barrier Reef. In 1976 the flame was converted to an electronic pulse and transmitted via satellite to Canada, where a laser beam was used to re-ignite the fire. Other means of transport have included a canoe, a camel and Concorde.

Athletes, musicians, actors and politicians — and thousands of ordinary people — have all carried the torches, with the final job of igniting the main Olympic flame often falling to a major sports star. Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali performed the honors in 1996, Australian aboriginal runner Cathy Freeman in 2000 and French football star Michel Platini in 1992. E-mail to a friend

Carrying a torch for tradition – found here.

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March 24, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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