The Olympic flame is a symbol of the Olympic Games. Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was introduced at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since. In contrast to the Olympic flame proper, the torch relay of modern times, which transports the flame from Greece to the various designated sites of the games, had no ancient precedent and was introduced by Carl Diem at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
In the time of the original games within the boundaries of Olympia, the altar of the sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Hestia maintained a continuous flame. For the ancient Greeks, fire had divine connotations—it was thought to have been stolen from the gods by Prometheus. Therefore, fire was also present at many of the sanctuaries in Olympia, Greece. During the Olympic Games, which honoured Zeus, additional fires were lit at his temple and that of his wife, Hera. The modern Olympic flame is ignited at the site where the temple of Hestia used to stand.
The tradition was reintroduced during the 1928 Games. An employee of the Electric Utility of Amsterdam lit the first Olympic flame in the Marathon Tower of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. The modern convention of moving the Olympic flame via a relay system from Greece to the Olympic venue began in 1936 in Germany. Carl Diem devised the idea of the torch relay for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin that was organized by the Nazis under the guidance of Joseph Goebbels. The Krupp armaments company produced the torches in wood and metal, inspired by an olive leaf. The Olympic flame was lit by a concave mirror in Olympia, Greece and transported over 3,187 kilometres by 3,331 runners in twelve days and eleven nights from Greece to Berlin. Leni Riefenstahl later staged the torch relay for the 1938 film Olympia. Contingent on the audience, some may have comprehended the film as part of the Nazi propaganda machine's attempt to add myth and mystique to Adolf Hitler's regime. Hitler saw the link with the ancient Games as the perfect way to illustrate his belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich. There were minor protests in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia on the way, which were suppressed by the local security forces.
Although most of the time the torch with the Olympic flame is still carried by runners, it has been transported in many different ways. The fire travelled by boat in 1948 and 2012 to cross the English Channel and was carried by rowers in Canberra as well as by dragon boat in Hong Kong in 2008, and it was first transported by airplane in 1952, when the fire travelled to Helsinki. In 1956, all carriers in the torch relay to Stockholm, where the equestrian events were held instead of in Melbourne, travelled on horseback. Remarkable means of transportation were used in 1976, when the flame was transformed to a radio signal. From Athens, this signal was transmitted by satellite to Canada, where it was received and used to trigger a laser beam to re-light the flame. This distinctive 1976 torch was manufactured by John L. Saksun's The Queensway Machine Products Ltd. In 2000, the torch was carried under the water by divers near the Great Barrier Reef. Other unique means of transportation include a Native American canoe, a camel, and Concorde. In 2004, the first global torch relay was undertaken, a journey that lasted 78 days. The Olympic flame covered a distance of more than 78,000 km in the hands of some 11,300 torchbearers, travelling to Africa and South America for the first time, visiting all previous Olympic cities and finally returning to Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympics.
The climactic transfer of the flame from the torches to the cauldron at the host stadium concludes the relay and marks the symbolic commencement of the Games. Perhaps one of the most spectacular of these ceremonies took place at the 1992 Barcelona Games, when Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo ignited the cauldron by shooting a burning arrow over it, which ignited gas rising from the cauldron. Two years later, the Olympic fire was brought into the stadium of Lillehammer by a ski jumper. In Beijing 2008, Li Ning "ran" on air around the Bird's Nest and lit the flame. In Vancouver 2010, four athletes—Catriona Le May Doan, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash and Nancy Greene—were given the honour of lighting the flame simultaneously (indoors) before Wayne Gretzky transferred the flame to an outdoor cauldron at Vancouver's waterfront. Two years later, at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, seven young athletes-Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckitt, Desiree Henry, Katie Kirk, Cameron MacRitchie, Aidan Reynolds and Adelle Tracey-were given the honour of lighting the flame on one of the 204 copper petals before they converged to form the cauldron for the Games.