The History of the Olympic Games and Olympic Torch Relay

The Spirit of the Olympic Games

The Olympic Torch Relay represents an important dimension in the history of the Olympic Games. It is important that each community appreciates the history of the Olympic flame, the meaning of the Olympic motto and the aims of the Olympic Movement.

Olympic flame

The Olympic flame is "The light of knowledge, life and spirit and symbolises the handing down from generation to generation". The Olympic flame, which symbolises the endeavor to perfection and struggle for victory, was first introduced to the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928. The first Olympic Torch Relay was organised and run in Berlin in 1936.

Originally the suggestion of the Germans, Theodore Lewald, a torch is lit at Olympia in Greece, the home of the Ancient Olympics, and then carried by relay to the host city. The last runner, carrying the torch, runs into the main stadium at the time of the Opening Ceremony. The Olympic flame is then lit and allowed to burn throughout the Games until it is extinguished during the Closing Ceremony.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympic Games, was born in Paris in 1863 and was personally involved in fencing, rowing, boxing and cycling. His visits to British public schools resulted in a lifelong interest in trying to get the heavily academic French schools to take up more sports-oriented curricula. As an educational theorist, de Coubertin was convinced of the importance of sport for the development of the individual. He believed that the qualities of initiative, teamwork and fair play should be encouraged in young people through participation in school sports and competitive games.

In 1892 at the age of 29, de Coubertin began to rally support for the revival of the Olympic Games. He felt that a great deal could be gained by bringing together the youth of the world in friendly competition. He also believed that the Modern Olympic Games would be a period of concord in which differences of status, religion, politics and race would be forgotten.

On 23 June 1894 at the Paris Congress, de Coubertin founded the IOC and established the structure of the Olympic Movements and preparations began for the first Olympic Games of the modern era, to be held in Athens in 1896.

Olympic Motto

The Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, expresses the message which the IOC addresses to all who belong to the Olympic Movement, inviting them to excel in accordance with the Olympic spirit.

Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for faster, higher, stronger, was devised by a teacher friend of de Coubertin, a Dominican monk, Father Henri Didon.

Olympic Movement

Aims of the Olympic Movement

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the current President of the IOC, has said that the Olympic Games "Pay tribute first and foremost to the athletes. By demanding the best of themselves they encourage us to excel; by reaching the limit of their capabilities, they push back the limits of mankind."

The aims of the Olympic Movement area:

  • To promote the development of those physical and moral qualities which are the basis of sport
  • To educate young people through sport in a spirit of better understanding between each other, and of friendship, thereby helping to build a better and more peaceful world
  • To spread the Olympic principles throughout the world, thereby creating international goodwill
  • To bring together athletes of the world in the great four-yearly sports festival, the Olympic Games.

One of the major aims of the Olympism is "to improve the human race, not only physically, but to give it a greater nobility of spirit, and to strengthen understanding and friendship amongst peoples."

Olympic Oath

Just as ancient Greek athletes had to swear an oath to play fairly, so too do competitors in the Modern Olympic Games. The oath was written by Baron de Coubertin and is made at the Opening Ceremony by an athlete from the host country on behalf of all athletes.

Athletes' Oath

"In the name of all competitors I promise that we will take part in these Olympic Games, responding and abiding by all the rules which govern them in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and honour of our teams."

Officials' Oath

"In the name of all judges and officials, I promise that we shall officiate in these Olympic Games with complete impartiality, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship."

The Olympic Rings and Flag

The five colours of the Olympic rings are blue, yellow, black, green and red, interlaced from left to right. The rings represent the union of the continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.

The Olympic flag or symbol is constituted by the above five different rings. These intertwined rings were designed in 1913 by the founder of the Modern Olympics, Baron de Courbertin. The five colours combined with the white background are said by de Courbertin to have symbolic meaning: "These five rings represent the five parts of the world now won over to Olympism and ready to accept its fertile rivalries. Also the six colours combined represent those of all nations, with no exceptions. This is a real international emblem."

Olympic Charter

The IOC, created by the Paris Congress on 23 June 1894, is the supreme authority of the Olympic Movement. It owns all rights concerning the Olympic symbol, the Olympic flag, the Olympic motto, the Olympic anthem and the Olympic Games. The Olympic Movement encompasses organisations, athletes and other persons who agree to be guided by the Olympic Charter. Any person or organisation belonging in any capacity whatsoever to the Olympic Movement is bound by the provision of the Olympic Charter and shall abide by the Olympic Charter.

The Olympic Charter is the codification of the Fundamental Principles, Rules and By-Laws adopted by the IOC. It governs the organisation and operation of the Olympic Movement and stipulates the conditions for the celebration of the Olympic Games.

Acknowledgements

  • 1996 Olympic Torch Relay - Planning and Preparation Guide for Cities
  • History of the Olympic Torch Relay - The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), Atlanta Georgia, Feb 96
  • Nagano Schools Guide - 1998