Though the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are little over 100 days away, the hype has already been ignited ”“ literally. The Olympic torch was recently sparked at Olympia in Greece, marking the beginning of its quest to North America.
On Oct. 22 at 12:39 p.m. local time in Greece, the high priestess, actress Maria Nafpliotou, lit the Olympic torch in Athens’ Temple of Hera reviving the 2,700 year-old tradition of the Olympics. Amazingly, the torch was ignited by the sun through the use of energy-storing mirrors and will remain burning through the Olympics in Vancouver until being extinguished during closing ceremonies.
In the face of mounting criticism towards an over-budget Olympics in Vancouver during a time of global economic devastation, one still can’t help but marvel at the illustrious history of the torch’s role in the games and the extraordinary measures taken in its pre-Olympic travels.
The Olympic torch’s history stems from the ancient Greeks’ divine obsession with fire, which was believed to be stolen from the gods by Prometheus. Fire was also customarily used to honour Zeus during the first Olympic competitions and the symbolic emphasis placed on the lighting of the torch represents the enlightenment of sport, the spirit of athleticism, courage and inspiration.
The Olympic flame from the ancient games was reintroduced in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. However, it wasn’t until the Nazis turned the ceremony into a relay in the 1936 Berlin Olympics that it became as popular as it is in contemporary times. Unfortunately, the relay was Hitler’s propagandistic idea to boost his mystique as Germany’s leader.
Prior to its arrival in Victoria on Oct. 30, the Olympic torch made some interesting stops on Greek soil, which further drew upon the majestic history of the Games. One of the notable checkpoints in the torch’s relay in Greece included its stop in the small alpine community of Metsovo, the birthplace of skiing.
The Olympic torch will remain in motion for the next 13 weeks in its Canadian odyssey. This marked the first time the Canadian military was given the important task of escorting the Olympic torch. In contemporary times, the airplane has emerged as the most popular means of the torch’s transport but bizarre modes such as dragon boats, camels and underwater divers have been also been used.
Interestingly, the torch remained lit during the flight to Canada but reportedly had to be turned down to a low heat intensity. That’s right, the Olympic torch isn’t your standard flaming piece of kerosene-doused wood — it’s composed of anodized aluminum and stainless steel and can withstand temperatures ranging from -40 to 40 celsius.
Strangely enough, CBC reports the manufacturing plant responsible for crafting the Games’ 12,000 torches has kept its location a secret for security reasons.
In a relay that will span from coast to coast and back, the Olympic torch will cover 45,000 kilometres of Canadian turf and visit upwards of 1,000 communities before returning to Vancouver for the Games.
Saskatchewan will also get an ample taste of the Olympic hysteria when the torch transitions across the wheat lands in early January. Regina, Swift Current, Lloydminster, Saskatoon and Prince Albert are a few of the Olympic torch’s destination spots in the prairie portion of its Canadian expedition.
Saskatoon is lucky enough to host the World Junior Championship and receive the Olympic torch within the same week when the acclaimed flame makes its Saskatoon cameo on Jan. 11, 2010.
According to the City of Saskatoon website, the arrival is expected to include a two-hour celebration full of entertainment and cultural performances.
image: Eli Gana