Olympic Flame Torches & Cauldrons: A Retrospective

Link - article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams

Designed to inspire and fan the flames of Olympic competition

Now that the Olympics are over, it's time to reflect on some of the greatest and most innovative Olympic designs. Each edition of the summer and winter Olympic Games has featured a cauldron, in which the Olympic flame is lit. The cauldron is actually a link to the games as they existed in ancient Greece and first became part of the modern Olympics at the Amsterdam Games in 1928. The torch relay was introduced at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

At Dark Roasted Blend, we examine some of the cauldrons and relay torches that have graced the world’s most famous sporting event since the revival of the Olympics in 1896.

(Spectacular 2006 Asian Games cauldron; images via)

Here’s where the Olympic flame was lit during the Amsterdam Games in 1928:

(image via)

Berlin was selected as the host city for the Olympics in 1931, two years before the Nazis came to power in Germany. Hitler however was able to use the 1936 Olympics from propaganda purposes to promote the idea of the superiority of the Aryan race, despite the success of African American athlete Jesse Owens and other non-German athletes. The Olympic cauldron can still be seen in the stadium that was built for the 1936 Olympics and recently hosted the World Cup Final in 2006:

(image credit: Das Eiserne Kreuz)

The modern tradition of passing the torch, or torch relay, started with the 1936 Berlin Olympics:

(image copyright International Olympic Committee, via)

In 1948, London hosted the first Olympics to take place after World War Two. Here we see the lighting of the cauldron in Wembley Stadium (left). The London Olympic Torch was designed by architect Ralph Lavers:

(images via 1, Memorabilia London 2012)

One of the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games torches was recently sold for almost $400,000 (the second most expensive Olympic item ever sold at an auction):

(images credit: International Olympic Committee, via)

The Olympic flame traveled on a plane from Greece to Australia for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, although the flame had first been transported by air four years earlier for the Helsinki Games. The golden cauldron is now on display in Melbourne’s National Sports Museum:

(images credit: Paul Robert Lloyd, 2, 3)

Here we see the lighting of the cauldron at the Rome Olympics in 1960, where Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, won the light-heavyweight boxing gold medal:

(images via 1, 2)

The Olympic Games were held in Asia for the first time in 1964, in Tokyo. The cauldron wasn’t that spectacular a design, but still pretty impressive, in a dignified, minimalist way:

In Mexico City in 1968, Norma Enriqueta Basilio became the first woman to use the Olympic flame to light the cauldron:

(images via)

The Munich 1972 Olympic relay torch seemed to emulate 1964 Tokyo Games shape, but the cauldron was totally original design (we also like the Olympic logo quite a bit):

(images via)

The cauldron for the 1976 Montreal Olympics is a very simple design (which works quite well):

(images via 1, 2, 3)

The Olympic torch for 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics was based on a sword shape (left), the games poster also reflects the classic tradition (with a modern twist):

(image credit: International Olympic Committee, via)

The cauldron at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, where the opening ceremonies were held in 1980, was removed in 1996 during construction work to the stadium’s roof. The cauldron has apparently been left to rust on the riverbank since then but there may be plans for its restoration:

(images credit: Andrey Smirnov, Olympic.org)

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics torch was quite shiny, and the cauldron tower was part of the whole Los Angeles Coliseum design:

(images credit: Atlanta History Center, 2)

The cauldron at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics had a relatively simple design, but the city was also able to use the downtown Calgary Tower as a gigantic torch. A natural gas powered cauldron was built on top of the Tower in celebration of the Olympics and burned for twenty four hours each day for the duration of the Games:

(images via 1, 2)

Also in 1988, here we see an interesting "double-decker" cauldron design for the Summer Olympics, held in Seoul, South Korea. The torch features elaborate engravings:

(images via)

In Barcelona in 1992, the organizers decided on this contrasting design of a classical looking stadium with a very modern cauldron attacked to the outer perimeter. On this occasion, a flaming arrow shot up from the stadium by an archer ignited the Olympic flame:

When looking at this cauldron from a certain angle, it seem to resemble a rudder of a ship:

(images credit: 1, 2)

1996 Atlanta Olympics cauldron almost looks like a launch tower for a Space Shuttle, and the torch design is somewhat reminiscent of a rocket booster:

(images via 1, 2)

The cauldron at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, almost looks like a gigantic campfire with those huge twigs and sticks around the edges. The Olympic torch design is based on a traditional Japanese torches, with special yellow thread around the handle:

(images via 1, 2 lower right: Olympic poster, fragment)

In Sydney in 2000, the president of the International Olympic Committee described the opening of the Games as the most beautiful ceremony the world had ever seen. The lighting of the cauldron was certainly spectacular. Olympic champion sprinter Cathy Freeman swept the burning Olympic torch across a pool of the water, from which a ring of fire emerged from the submerged cauldron. The flaming cauldron then rose to be joined with the supporting mast, which appeared from the rear of one the grandstands. The cauldron and mast was then lifted to its full height above the stadium. The cauldron was converted into a fountain after the Games and can now be seen in Sydney Olympic Park:

(images via 1, 2)

The lighting of the cauldron in Sydney was certainly something very special, but surely the prize, so far at least, for the most imaginative design goes to Salt Lake City in 2002. For the Winter Olympics that year, the cauldron was located on top of a gigantic crystal snowflake or perhaps even an icicle:

(images via via)

The original design, comprising a twisted stack of glass panels made to resemble snowflakes (above right), was rejected on the grounds of cost and the fact that it unfortunately wouldn’t show up well enough on television screens. The cauldron is now located at Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Cauldron Park, along with other items from the Games, at the 2002 Winter Olympic Museum:

(image via)

At the following Olympics, in Athens in 2004, the cauldron was almost simplicity itself when compared to the one on display in Salt Lake City. This one was part of the main stadium’s structure. The torch shape looks strangely like a... pen! -

This is an interesting cauldron, from the Torino Winter Olympics in 2006. Located in northern Italy, Torino or Turin is historically the centre of the country’s car industry and a manufacturing centre, so it no doubt seemed appropriate to have an industrial theme for the Olympic cauldron. You can almost imagine this one being situated on top of a gas plant, refinery or an offshore oil platform.

(images via 1, 2)

Interestingly, the shape of Turin's Olympic Cauldron is also similar to the Jewish traditional Havdalah candles, used to celebrate the closing of the weekly Shabbath. These candles symbolize joy and spiritual fulfillment, and Jewish people have been lighting them up for centuries.

Here we see the lighting of the cauldron in Beijing in 2008 - pretty traditional form for a cauldron and a torch; but the opening ceremony was often quite modern and quite spectacular:

(images via)

And in 2010 in Vancouver there were two cauldrons, one at the indoor opening ceremony at BC Place Stadium and another outdoors near the Vancouver Convention Centre. The outdoor cauldron is now on display as part of a fountain on the upper level of the Convention Centre patio, illuminated in blue and green at night and there are plans for the flame to be relit for special occasions in the future:

(images via; top right image: Olympic flame snow sculpture via)

And finally, the 2012 London Olympic Games Cauldron is certainly one of the best, if not the most spectacular! Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, it consists of individual petals which rise up and converge to form a single, yet wonderfully complex, flame:

(images via)

The ArcelorMittal Orbit modernist sculpture (Britain's largest piece of public art, located at Olympic Park in London) resembles both an extreme roller coaster and a huge... olympic torch, and thus earns a mention in our roundup:

(images via)

To get an idea of how much Olympic torches (and other Olympics collectible items) can fetch at an auction, see this article.

Article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.

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Anonymous Rich said...

great collection! (got any from ancient greece?)

Blogger myles said...

Congratulations on the Torches/Cauldrons section!! What a fine collection you got. I have NOT seen many of the fotos you posted on here!! But I do have others I did not use in my book, SECRETS OF THE OLYMPIC CEREMONIES. www.secretolympiceremony.com

In fact, I have a color close-up of the 1960 Squaw Valley Torch (presently at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco). I can share that with you if you wish.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Myles! Wonderful stuff, and yes, please send us your material by email - abramsv@gmail.com - for future articles.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 2008 picture is wrong! The real torch looks like a giant scroll.


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