Who Lit the Olympic Flame?

The Olympic cauldron remains lit from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony.  Editorial credit: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com
The Olympic cauldron remains lit from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony. Editorial credit: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com

One of the traditions that has been part of the Olympics for over 80 years now is the lighting of the Olympic flame. The Olympic flame has been around the world, made its way into space, and has even scaled the highest mountain in the world. Although the Olympic flame made its first appearance in 1928 in Amsterdam, it was not until 1936 that the tradition of carrying the flame from the Olympic Stadium, the birthplace of Olympics, to the host city via a torch relay was introduced. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have had the privilege of carrying the Olympic torch. However, only very few people have had the opportunity to light the Olympic flame.

Who Lit the Olympic Flame?

Fritz Schilgen

Fritz Schilgen was the 3,075 and the last bearer of the maiden relay torch in 1936. He was a German-born athlete who began his career as a long distance runner. He participated in several championships including World University Games and German Championship, finishing within the medal position on some occasions. Schilgen was also an accomplished engineer, developing 35 patents. He was chosen to light the 1936 Olympic flame because of his beautiful and graceful running style. He was also considered a symbol sporting youth. Schilgen’s dramatic lighting of the flame was featured in a Nazi’s propaganda film known as Olympia.

Eigil Nansen

Eigil Nansen was the first non-athlete to light an Olympic flame. He was a humanitarian who worked with refugees. He was also a human right activist who fought mainly for the rights of refugees. In 1991, Eigil won the Lisle and Leo Eitinger award for his active involvement in human rights. He was selected to light the Olympic flame for the 1952 Winter Olympic Games in Norway.

Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen

The 1952 Summer Olympic flame was lit by two Olympic gold medalists. Nurmi was a well-known athlete who had won nine gold medals at the Olympics in the 1920s while Hannes had won four gold medals. During the lighting of the Olympic flame, Nurmi lit the torch at the field level and passed it over to other athletes who relayed the torch to the top of the tower where Henne lit the higher-placed torch.

Yoshinori Sakai

Yoshinori Sakai lit the Olympic cauldron during the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Although he was an athlete, he never participated in any Olympic Game. He was born on the day Hiroshima was bombed by an atomic bomb. Sakai was selected to light the Olympic flame as a symbol of Japan’s rebuilding and peace after the war.

Were They All Athletes?

The lighting of the cauldron is not only reserved for popular and well-known athletes and personalities, but also to people who are not famous but symbolize the ideal of the Olympics. The 1976 Summer Olympic cauldron was lit by two teenagers representing the unity between French and English Canada. The 1994 Winter Olympic cauldron was lit by the Crown Prince Haakon of Norway in honor of his father and grandfather who had taken part in the Olympic Games. In 2012, a team of young aspiring athletes, each nominated by former British Olympic champions, was given the privilege of lighting the Olympic flame.

Who Lit the Olympic Flame?

1936 Summer Berlin Fritz SchilgenTrack and field
1948 Summer London John MarkTrack and field
1952 Winter Oslo Eigil NansenNon-athlete
1952 Summer Helsinki Paavo Nurmi, Hannes Kolehmainen Track and field
1956 Winter Cortina d'Ampezzo Guido Caroli Speed skating
1956 Summer Melbourne Ron Clarke(Melbourne), Hans Wikne (Stockholm) Track and field
1960 Winter Squaw Valley Ken Henry Track and field
1960 Summer Rome Giancarlo Peris Speed skating
1964 Winter Innsbruck Josef RiederAlpine skiing
1964 Summer Tokyo Yoshinori SakaiTrack and field
1968 Winter Grenoble Alain CalmatFigure skating
1968 Summer Mexico City Norma Enriqueta Basilio de SoteloTrack and field
1972 Winter Sapporo Hideki TakadaSpeed skating
1972 Summer MunichGunther ZahnTrack and field
1976 Winter Innsbruck Christl Haas, Josef Feistmantl Alpine skiing
1976 Summer Montreal Stéphane Préfontaine, Sandra Henderson Track and field
1980 Winter Lake Placid Charles Morgan KerrNon-athlete
1980 Winter Moscow Sergey BelovBasketball
1984 Winter SarajevoSanda Dubravcic Figure skating
1984 Summer Los Angeles Rafer JohnsonTrack and field
1988 Winter Calgary Robyn PerryFigure skating
1988 Summer Seoul Chung Sun-man, Sohn Mi-chung, Kim Won-takNon-athlete
1992 Winter Albertville Michel Platini, Francois Cyrille Grange Association football
1992 Summer Barcelona Antonio RebolloArchery
1994 Winter LillehammerHaakon, Crown Prince of NorwayNon-athlete
1996 Summer Atlanta Muhammad AliBoxing
1998 Winter Nagano Midori ItoFigure skating
2000 Summer Sydney Cathy FreemanTrack and field
2002 Winter Salt Lake City The 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey teamIce hockey
2004 Summer AthensNikolaos KaklamanakisSailing
2006 Winter TurinStefania BelmondoCross-country skiing
2008 Summer BeijingLi NingArtistic gymnastics
2010 Winter Vancouver Steve Nash, Nancy Greene, Wayne Gretzy, Catriona Le May Doan Basketball
2012 Summer London Desiree Henry, Katie Kirk, Aidan Reynolds, Adelle Tracey, Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckkit, Cameron MacRitchieTrack and field
2014 Winter Sochi Irina Rodnina, Vladislav Tretiak Figure skating
2016 Summer Rio de JaneiroVanderlei de LimaAthletics

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