How Does the Olympic Torch Work?

Posted: August 11, 2021

The Olympic torch has been used in every Olympics since the modern Games began in 1896. This year, Japan used using the torch to light the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics Japan. The torch is lit in Olympia, Greece, where the first Olympic Games were held more than 2,800 years ago. Since the beginning of the tradition, there have been many design changes and this year’s torch was the least emitting of all.

Brief History & Evolved Design Elements

The modern torch relay was originally developed for Berlin’s 1936 Summer Olympics and while there have been other traditions such as using a more literal torch (for example, torches lit from those of Olympia), lighting up an allegorical flame of inspiration, or carrying a lit lantern, no one element has remained consistent over time. Originally designed to show solidarity between nations during World War II, today’s torch relay is all about spreading peace and inspiring people everywhere. Most countries participating make and use their own cauldron for their athletes – Japan used an aluminum one made from recycled housing material used to support those affected by the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Flame & Fuel

In Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games, Japan plans to showcase a special kind of torch called an Eco-Olympic Flame (it seems Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga really loves green energy). The design uses both solar and wind power to generate hydrogen fuel cells to run its mechanism. It will be one of the most environmentally friendly torches ever used in an international sporting event. Moreover, it represents a shift from traditional pyrotechnics that use carbon-based liquid fuels like butane. These elements—namely renewable sources of energy and recycling of materials—represent a desire by hosting nations to reduce their carbon footprint when putting on large-scale events like these.

Is it Totally Green?

One of many questions you may have after watching an Olympic ceremony is: How can a massive pillar of fire be totally green? The answer is: It’s not. What are you seeing in all that flame and smoke is a result of a mix of hydrogen and propane. Propane burns cleaner than other fossil fuels like diesel and butane, meaning it releases fewer harmful byproducts into the air. Still, it doesn’t burn as clean as hydrogen, but the propane hydrogen mix is definitely a step in the right direction… if you ignore the open-pit mining and mineral processing necessary to support the Fukushima facility.

Overall, Tokyo made an improvement to an already modern design that lays the groundwork for more conscious large-scale events and showed us how effectively materials and energy can be utilized to make art for the world to enjoy. We hope you enjoyed the games this year, and we are already excited for the next!

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Related Tags: events | olympic

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