How Is the Olympic Flame Lit—and How Does It Stay Lit?

 Jamie Squire, Getty Images
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

On February 9, 2018, billions of people from around the world will tune in to watch the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While it’s sure to have a different tone from the 2014 opening ceremonies in Sochi, one thing that will remain constant: the traditional lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

The Olympic torch is reignited months before each new cycle of the games in a ceremony in Ancient Olympia, Greece. An actress playing an ancient priestess uses a parabolic mirror and the sun’s rays to set the torch relay in motion (if it's cloudy on the day of the ceremony, they light the torch from a second torch that was lit in the parabolic mirror on a sunny rehearsal day).

Once the flame is reestablished, it’s up to thousands of torchbearers to ensure that it makes it to its final destination safely; this year, 7500 torchbearers have carried the torch to make it to Pyeongchang. The path from Greece to the Games can even take the torch underwater, as it did at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, when a special underwater flare was employed to send the flame over the Great Barrier Reef.


Getty Images

The intention is for the flame to stay continuously lit throughout its entire journey, but there's almost always difficulty at some point along the route. One journalist reported that the flame was extinguished at least 44 times on its way to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the Rio relay for the 2016 Summer Games saw its fair share of mishaps as well. On June 20, 2016, a jaguar that was part of the relay was shot and killed after it escaped from its handlers and reportedly lunged at a soldier; several days later, a Brazilian man attempted to douse the torch as it passed through his town. Just days before the ceremony, protestors actually shut down the torch procession in Angra dos Reis, Brazil, stealing it from the torchbearer and extinguishing the flame.

Sometimes it's Mother Nature who extinguishes the torch. In 2013, it had to pass through what amounted to a wind tunnel at the Kremlin, where it fell victim to a particularly persistent gust of wind. It was quickly re-lit by a security agent’s Zippo. (That’s a no-no, by the way. There’s protocol for relighting the flame, and it involves a backup torch also lit from the original source in Athens—not a random lighter.)

When the flame does go out for good, it will be intentional; the snuffing ceremony on the final day of the 2018 Winter Games will put the flame to rest until the relay for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begins.

Simone Biles Just Became the Most Decorated Female Gymnast in History

Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br
Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br

Simone Biles became a household name when she won four gold medals in gymnastics at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Three years later, she has proven that she's still among the best in the sport's history. At the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Biles won her 21st world champ medal—making her the most decorated female gymnast of all time, The New York Times reports.

The U.S. women's team competed at the event in order to retain their title of best in the world. Biles racked up the highest individual scores with her vault, balance beam, and floor routines, helping the U.S. earn an overall score of 172.330 points. The team bested Russia, the second-place team, by 5.801 points and won their seventh consecutive gold at a world competition or Olympics.

Biles was previously tied with Svetlana Khorkina for most world championship medals held by a female gymnast. She now holds the record for the women's sport, and is just two medals shy of male gymnast Vitaly Scherbo's record of 23.

At 22, Simone Biles has already made a historic impact on the sport. In 2013, she had a difficult new floor exercise move named after her—a double layout with a 180-degree turn at the end.

[h/t The New York Times]

The New Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals Are Made From Recycled Electronics

Tokyo 2020
Tokyo 2020

The Olympics have ancient roots, but Tokyo is finding ways to update the event in time for the summer games in 2020. The latest idea shared by the organizing committee may not be as flashy as an artificial meteor shower or as essential as modernized toilets, but it's no less innovative. As Engadget reports, all of the medals awarded at the 2020 Summer Olympics will be made from recycled electronics—and their designs have been unveiled to the public for the first time.

Many electronics contain precious metals like copper, silver, and gold—the same elements needed to make the Olympic medals. With hundreds of pounds of the materials destined to become e-waste in Japan each year, the Olympic committee came up with a plan to put some of it to good use.

In 2017, the Olympics organizers called upon Japanese residents to donate their old smartphones and other devices so they could be made into medals for the 2020 games. Over the past two years, the committee has collected 78,985 tons of donated electronics (including more than 6.2 million phones), and from that haul they've recovered approximately 70 pounds of gold, 7716 pounds of silver, and 4850 pounds of bronze, which was more than enough material to cast new medals for each Olympic event. You can get a peek at the design of the final products in the video below.

The 2020 Olympics will mark Tokyo's second time hosting the games (their first go was in 1964). By the time the games conclude next summer, organizers are expected to have spent $20 billion putting the event together.

[h/t Engadget]

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