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10 questions about the Olympic Torch Relay answered

10 questions about the Olympic Torch Relay answered

The Olympic Torch Relay begins April 21, 2016 in Olympia, Greece and ends on August 5, 2016 at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


1. What does the Olympic flame symbolize?

The Ancient Greeks believed fire was a divine element, which was central to life. In Olympia, where the Ancient Olympic Games were held, a flame is said to have burned continuously on the altar of the goddess Hestia.

2. How is the Olympic flame lit?

The Olympic flame is lit by the sun's rays using a parabolic mirror and a fuel-filled torch.

3. How many torchbearers will carry the flame and how were the torchbearers chosen?

There will be approximately 12,000 torchbearers for the Rio Olympic Games Torch Relay. To begin Rio's torch relay, the Olympic flame will be handed to the first torchbearer, Greece's world-champion gymnast, Eleftherios Petrounias.  Petrounias will pass the torch to Brazil's two-time Olympic gold medalist, volleyball legend, Giovane Gavio.  Torchbearers are often former Olympians, current athletes and popular celebrities within the host nation, as well as people chosen for their outstanding community and social involvement. Before leaving Greece, the 2016 torch will pass through one of Athen's refugee camps where a refugee will take part in the relay.

Giovane Gavio is first Brazilian to carry 2016 Rio Olympic flame during torch relay

Former Brazilian volleyball player Giovane Gavio, was chosen as the first Brazilian athlete to carry the torch for the Rio 2016 relay. Credit: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

4. Is one single torch passed throughout the entire relay?

No, the flame is passed on, not the torch. Each torchbearer carries a separate torch, which can be purchased afterward by the individual. (Fun fact: An official torch from the 2012 London Olympics and signed by famed Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci was once listed on eBay with the extremely specific asking price of $15,874.50.) 

5. How far will the Olympic flame travel?

The torch will travel over 12,000 miles by road and 10,000 miles by air during the 95-day torch relay.  Unsurprisingly, the longest Olympic torch relay was held in 2008 for the Beijing Games when the relay traversed more than 85,000 miles.

6. Does the torch flame ever go out?

Yes, but rarely. If the torch goes out, it is relit from a back-up safety lantern that was also lit at the flame's origin in Olympia.

7. How is the Olympic flame flown safely to the host nation?

For Rio, the flame was flown in four security lamps, similar to a miner's lamp, for a flight to Switzerland before it makes the long flight to Brazil.  The miner lamp method was also used in 2012 when the Olympic cauldron was extinguised following the Opening Ceremony, enabling it to be moved from the center to its designated perch inside London's Olympic Stadium.


8. What happens to the torch at night?

The flame is kept in a special cauldron.

9. What are the craziest places the torch has gone?

The Olympic torch has been transported via camel, boat, zipline, skis, dogsled and more. It's even been underwater, in outer space, and to the summit of Mount Everest.

10. What makes the Rio Olympic torch special?

The Rio Olympic torch embodies the Olympic spirit as well as elements of Brazilian culture including "harmonious diversity, contagious energy and exuberant nature." The different segments represent the sky, the mountains, the sea and the ground that make up Brazil. However, the most innovative aspect of the torch is that when the Olympic flame is passed from one torchbearer to another, known as "the kiss," the segments of the torch open and reveal the colors of the Brazilian flag.

The Olympic flame is passed from one torch to another after the official ceremonial lighting of the flame in Greece for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Credit: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

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