It’s not just a flame. No, it’s much more than that. It’s a symbol.
Take a walk down Olympic Boulevard in Rio de Janeiro, and you’ll smell food trucks selling empanadas and stuffed churros. You’ll look up at a massive, yellow hot air balloon. You won’t be able to hear your neighbor speak when Brazil’s game-winning basket goes in on the big-screen TV, sending the packed watch-party crowd into a frenzy.
But in the middle of all that, you’ll find the glow of the Olympic flame. Get close enough, and you’ll even feel the heat radiating from it.
“It is the symbol, very important to the Olympics,” said Rossini Carnetig, a Rio native at the Olympic Boulevard on Tuesday. “It symbolizes the sound, the energy, the world and the people. Everything.”
The flame was lit on Aug. 5 at the Opening Ceremony to kick off the Olympic Games and will burn continuously until the Games’ end on Aug. 21. Of the half a million people expected to visit Rio for the Games, many of them will make a point to visit the flame.
The idea of the Olympic flame sparked all the way back in ancient times.
Greeks considered fire a divine element, and lit fires in front of their principal temples, according to olympic.org. The Ancient Olympic Games were held at the sanctuary of Olympia every four years, where a flame was lit using the sun’s rays to ensure purity.
Fire was first used as a symbol of the start of the Games in 1928. The torch relay came later in 1936, when it was invented by the Nazis. David Clay Large, a history professor, historian and author of Nazi Games: The 1936 Berlin Olympics, told USA TODAY Sports the relay was part of political propaganda and was used to promote the Nazi cause in conjunction with the Olympic Games.
This year, the torch was moved through Greece, Switzerland and Brazil. There were a total of 12,450 torchbearers and it traveled about 23,758 miles by road and air.
“It’s been around since ancient days, so it’s always something to see,” said Forrel Royal who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. “For me, that’s what I think pretty much unites the world.”
Royal and his friends had been trying to find the flame since Monday, but it took them a day to figure out how to get there. Once they made it, it didn’t disappoint.
It’s tucked into the city centre and is accompanied by a kinetic sculpture made by American sculptor Anthony Howe that is meant to emulate the sun. With a backdrop of the Candelária Church, the flame has become Rio’s latest photo op and tourist attraction.
“I think it’s so iconic,” said Adele Hunter from New Zealand. “It means the opening and closing of the Games. It’s a big thing, something that makes the Games real, a visual symbol.”
Julie Gravel and Danica Cooley came to Rio for the Olympic Games from Montreal, Canada, where the cauldron still stands from the 1976 Summer Games.
They said it will be good for the locals to have the cauldron and sculpture in the city after the Games, leaving them with a legacy—and reminding citizens of the iconic flame that once burned inside.
“Keeping the flame lit is like keeping the legacy going and keeping the Olympic spirit alive,” Cooley said.
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