It's not hard to reason this one but you migh...
It's that time again. The time when athletes tie their shoelaces, high jumpers stretch and shake off their nerves, cross country runners begin to warm up and the finest sportsmen around the world gather under one roof to take part in the Olympic Games. Just last Thursday (on the 10th of May) the Olympic flame was lit in Greece after the usual traditional ceremony. This got us to wondering where the whole ceremony originated. We poked around a bit and here's what we found out.
The Olympic Torch (or Flame) is a symbol of the Olympic Games. It originated--like the Olympics itself--in ancient Greece and it commemorates the theft of fire from the Greek God Zeus by Prometheus. These ancient Greeks believed that fire possessed a sacred quality and it was given to humankind by Prometheus. Mirrors were thus used to ignite the flames that perpetually burned in front of Greek temples. Their ancient ritual also included a torch relay, but this was never an actual part of the games.
In 1928, this tradition was rekindled at the games, and the practice has continued ever since. Today, the Greeks light the torch in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera in Olympia and it is meant to symbolize the connection between the ancient games and today's modern ones. As such, it has become a huge part of Greek tradition and culture as far as the Olympics are concerned.
After World War II, the idea of a torch relay returned to the 1948 Olympic Games in the spirit of reconnecting countries across the globe. Every year the torch has become just a little bit fancier as host countries of the Games attempt to outdo each other. These days, it runs on gas fuel, which ensures its resistance to wind.
The 2004 relay was especially spectacular because aside from starting and ending in Greece, it was also the first time the flame was carried to every continent. It crossed 34 cities and 27 countries. The flame travelled by plane when necessary, but within cities it was only relayed on foot!
It's also been at the center of major controversy despite the fact that being a torch-bearer is considered an extremely honorable position. In 2009, protests by human rights groups disrupted the torch progression as Parisian protesters managed to extinguish it. Many were arrested after a scuffle.
While the tradition remains strong, many critics feel that the spirit of the torch relay has been completely lost. The only reason it survives is because of commercial interests, while the promotion of greater interchange between countries has disappeared. Considering the aim was such a beautiful and necessary one, perhaps, we should attempt to find that collaborative spirit again before this year's Olympics kick off!
-Pictures courtesy Reuters-
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