Playing With Fire: the Olympic Torch Relay

“You naughty boy!” Zeus bawled unceremoniously at Prometheus. “So this is the thanks I get for creating you, and the rest. You get some great fennel stalk and hide fire inside it and steal it from me.

“This demands,” the รผber deity continued, “drastic measures.”

Zeus decreed that whole chaining-to-a-rock-and-having-your-liver-eaten thing. He was not accustomed to having his trinkets stolen from under his nose.

It is pretty, though, isn’t it, fire? Quite the perfect trinket to steal. And it’s useful. How many things can you say that about? ย Fire. It’s a classic.

A sparkly glorious thing, clean yet deadly, a vanquisher and an eternal light, it was bound to catch the attention of the Nazis. The perfect symbol to unite the Aryan race with those they would claim as their spiritual forebears, the Ancient Greeks.

Wurzberg-born Carl Diem was no stranger to the Olympic scene. He had masterminded abortive preparations for the 1916 Olympics, which were cancelled because of World War I; so he was going to make the most of organising those held in Berlin in 1936.

Diem wanted to tie Germany’s games firmly to their Ancient Greek roots. And so he found himself a high priestess.

Once appointed the priestess was packed off to Greece and the ancient temple of Hera, accompanied by 15 virgins in nice flowing robes. They used a concave mirror to focus the rays of the Greek sun and stole fire all over again.

And then came the chain of Aryan athletes which took the flame 3,422 kilometres to the Berlin stadium. Each runner ran one kilometre, through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and other countries which the Nazis would occupy, soon enough.

The whole thing was underpinned by German industry: the Zeiss Corporation, for example, made the lightning mirrors. The torches were made by German steel giants Krupp, who later armed germany for the Second World War.

This, friends, is how the flame tradition began. In the heart of the darkest of regimes.

But, like fire, it is a pretty idea; and when suitably adapted it has the advantage of being able to bring the Olympics to a street near you.

Which is what happened in a street near me today.

The British, like many before them, have patted the Nazi-initiated tradition on the back and toned it down. Lets’s not get too over excited about this, old chap, they have said. Rather than the perfect, lets choose our worthy to run. It’ll change the whole thrust of the thing.

When Speccy’s husband, a dedicated youth sports coach, ran, holding Prometheus’s plunder, I got squeakily excited.

Today was our turn to see it pass through our town. There we were, standing at the front, chatting to volunteer stewards who were vainly trying to keep revellers from spilling onto the road.

We love a good excuse to let our guards drop, we British. Any excuse to start smiling at each other and talking: it is the spirit of the Blitz. I knew the life history of the young Dad next to me by the time the flame hoved into view.

An ordinary bloke ran past: celebrity for a kilometre. He ran on a raft of rapturous applause, holding a flame which we have dampened a few times with our rain, but which does not dim as a symbol. Here was a fairytale ritual , created by the Nazis, enchanting yet another generation of enraptured crowds.

We cheered too. It was huge fun. And then he was gone, and we felt part of it all, and trailed home happily recalling every detail.

And the stolen fire ran on through the streets, away and towards a stadium where workman are adding -I trust- the very final touches.

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41 thoughts on “Playing With Fire: the Olympic Torch Relay

  1. So very cool that you guys got a chance to see the Torch relay, that would be wonderful to do. I still just love to see the Opening Ceremony and the final approach to light the Olympic Flame, it’s always a bit of a secret as to whom will get the final honors.

    1. I know, Lou- we’re looking forward to it. Maddie came home pleased as punch because one of her school ran with a torch in a nearby town, and Maddie got to touch it! We had a wonderful time yesterday. Very festive, and this was the day the Queen got to greet the torch!

  2. Oh, what fun!
    I was just letting my imagination run riot (and an Olympic torch!) and thinking how super it would be to do that kilometer. Then I had second thoughts, about what it would be like to have to say, ‘Er, sorry chaps, but it seems to have gone out on me …’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I know. Apparently the torch has never had problems like this before: it has taken this Summer of exceptional British rainfall to dampen the torches to the extent they go out. I think you chose your vacation here at just the right time, Col…

    1. It was, Lexy. Far more uplifting that we thought, just watching it go through. I think it was the expression on the runner’s face: he was buoyed up by the goodwill of others. Just wonderful.

    1. Yes, we dodged the raindrops, Andra, though the clouds threatened every now and then. We paid for it today though. I think someone just got a bucket up there in the sky, filled it with water and turned it upside down. You still hot out there in Charleston?

  3. I love the cheer of the torch route compared to the spirit of the Blitz, and the chatty Dad. Events which remind us to connect are like that I suppose, though one does prefer a celebration to a city under attack in a short term.

    And the Nazis. Whoa.

  4. Most excellent pictures my friend and thanks for sharing them – the Olympics will not be darkening our door anytime soon (too expensive to host at the moment) so its wonderful to be able to enjoy them through your eyes ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Dear Kate, like some of your other readers, I had no idea that this ritual/tradition/custom originated with the Nazi. Perhaps another example of how out of darkness can come light. Thank you for the video of the passing of the torch through your village. It’s thrilling really to me. Peace.

  6. Another little tidbit learned from you; somehow I never gave a moment’s consideration to the origin of this torch tradition, just assumed it had always been done this way. What fun that you and so many of your neighbors were able to be a part of the passage. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. If I hadn’t recently scene a documentary on Jesse Owens, I would not have known about the Nazis and the torch, Kate, but still find it interesting, especially in the way you tell it.

    Enjoy every moment of the Olympics, which you have already begun to do. We vied for 2016 and were denied the bid. Oh well.

  8. So much excitement! I’m a big Olympics fan myself and can’t begin to imagine the thrill of having all that in my city. Hectic, chaotic, inconvenient, for sure. But it’s the Olympics!

  9. I had no idea of the ironic origins of the tradition! Somewhere in my boxes of unorganized photos I have one, too, of the torch and runner coming through our city during the Los Angeles Olympics. I thought it was very exciting! I’m so glad you had the opportunity. And I, too, was just in awe with Fiona’s husband having that remarkable opportunity! I’m really looking forward to the Games! Debra

  10. I got distracted by the border terrier then by a fennel stalk. I only came back when you started talking about the whole cheerful matter of Nazi origins. Ni-ice. It’s amazing the dirty, dark connections that things and rituals we cherish and view as important in our modern lives have. ๐Ÿ™‚

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