Though the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896, the torch relay wasn't introduced until 1936, at the Berlin Games. The idea for the Olympic torch relay is credited to a German professor and Olympic official by the name of Carl Diem, who saw the relay as a way to connect the ancient Olympics to the games being held in Berlin. For the 1936 Summer Games, the Olympic torch was ignited in its ancient birthplace, the Greek city of Olympia, and then brought to Berlin. Before reaching Berlin, the torch passed through Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia. All of these countries were annexed or occupied by Nazi Germany a few years later [source: Altman].
The torch relay didn't debut at the Winter Games until 1952, and it started in Norway, the birthplace of skiing. Since 1964, however, the Olympic torch has been lit in Olympia for both winter and summer games. The lighting of the torch in Olympia takes the relay event -- and in many ways, each event -- back to the origins of the Olympics. That's the traditional side of the relay event. Each host country has its own traditions, along with promotions. Itineraries might take the torch through cities that hosted previous games, but they also often take it through points of interest and national pride. For example, England has mapped out its torch route for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games a year in advance, complete with a Web site that tells where the torch will be each day. Organizers plan to use 8,000 torchbearers for the flame's 70-day trek across the United Kingdom [source: London 2012].
It's not just runners who carry the Olympic torch, as was the case with the first torch relay to Berlin. It has traveled by boat for Mexico City, Barcelona and Atlanta games, by horseback for Atlanta and Stockholm relays, by parachute for Lillehammer, Norway, games, snowmobile to Calgary, Canada, and by camel to Sydney, Australia. The torch (with flame extinguished) even traveled into space with astronauts on its way to Atlanta in 1996 and into the water near the Great Barrier Reef off Sydney's coast in 2000 [source: Altman].
Of course, locals hosting Olympic Games enjoy lining the streets (and waterways) to welcome the torch, and perhaps the most exciting part of the relay is the torch's entry to the Olympic Stadium, which also has a history of innovative approaches.
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