The Sacred Flame of Olympia
For those who don’t know, the Olympic Torch is used to literally “bring” the Olympic flame from its eternal home at Olympia, Greece to the actual site of the games for said year. The torch is passed between hundreds of individuals as it makes its way to the Games’ opening ceremonies.
Following the initial torch-lighting ceremony in Olympia, the relay for this year’s Olympiad in Torino, Italy began in Rome on December 8th, and will end up (after passing through Florence, Palermo, Naples, Milan and others) in Torino’s Stadio Comunale on February 10, where the Flame will light the Olympic Cauldron and give start to the Twentieth Olympic Winter Games.
And yet, since the reappearance of the Torch at the Modern Olympic Games in 1936, the blazing wand has carried the double duty of retaining its age-old stature and function while at the same time becoming a fitting icon for its respective host city. The torch has become one way for a host city to express the peculiarity of its peoples or the uniqueness of its region to the rest of the world.
For the Games in Sapporo in 1972, the torch was given a Japanese modernist makeover; Calgary 1988’s hilt symbolized the city’s Calgary Tower. Salt Lake City 2002’s torch resembled a stylized snow crystal featuring the bright colors of the Utah landscape, yellow-orange and blue.
With this precedent established, the Torino Olympic Committee wanted the 2006 torch to become a reflection of Italy’s diversity—combining the best of Italian style, taste, enthusiasm, and quality into its dynamic form.
“The Torch expresses the distinct elements of Italian design to the world and at the same time the universal values promoted by the Olympic Committee,” says Andrea Pininfarina, director of Italy’s automotive giant, Pininfarina. The company was in charge of the design, engineering and production of the 12,000 torches required for the send-off of this year’s games.
While the newly designed torch takes its inspiration from the traditional wooden Olympic torch, there’s nothing wooden about it. Once lit, the symbolic flame of the head engulfs a sleek aluminium skin, sculpted into a sweeping form. The aluminum itself seems to emit fire.
The dynamic and innovative contours of the Torch resemble the tip of a ski, adding a touch of alpine charm to the visual form.
“Our Torch is simple, functional and transmits the value of sportsmanship,” says Pininfarina.
The engineering of the torch has taken into account three significant aspects: atmospheric conditions, television visibility and the torch bearer’s safety.
The metallic beacon is designed to guarantee the utmost safety for everyone who carries it. The flame is designed to remain lit in the most unfavorable climatic conditions and the torch’s hefty size, at 31 inches tall, epitomizes the Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”—faster, higher, stronger.
When the torch has finished its job and the last flame at Torino has been extin- guished, the memory of the city and its people will be perpetuated, thanks to the artistry behind the torch.
Image: Andrea Pininfarina shows off his company’s “simple, functional” torch. Image courtesy the Pininfarina Group.