• London Olympics 2012: Ten things

The lighting of the flame

Steven Lynch
July 27, 2012
Cathy Freeman wowed the crowds on and off the track in Sydney © Getty Images
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Each day of the Games we will bring ten facts you may or may not know about the great sporting spectacle that is the Olympcs. We are flame heavy today

The first Olympic flame was seen in Antwerp in 1928. The idea of a torch relay was started, along with several other glitzy innovations, for the 1936 Berlin Games, which are often dubbed "the Nazi Olympics". The final torch-bearer then was Fritz Schilgen, who didn't otherwise feature in the Games but was chosen largely because of his graceful running style.

The Australian runner Cathy Freeman lit the cauldron at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, wearing what looked like a silver space-suit, and a few days later won the 400 metres on the track in an equally striking green-and-gold hooded one-piece. Freeman is the only flame-lighter to win gold at the same Games.

At Montreal in 1976 Canada's Anglo-French identity was symbolised by the flame being jointly lit by two teenagers - Stephane Prefontaine from French-speaking Quebec, and Sandra Henderson from English-speaking Ontario. Urban myth has it that the pair (who were 15 and 16 at the time) were later married, but that particular fairytale is untrue.

The archery starts on Friday at Lord's, with the individual ranking round taking place on the Nursery ground - which, in September, is the home of the Cross Arrows, a cricket team largely made up of MCC staff members.

Archer Alison Williamson is taking part in her sixth Olympics (she won an individual bronze in 2004), but at 40 she still has a few years to spare on Britain's last bow-toting gold medallist - Sybil "Queenie" Newall was 53 when she won the women's event in London in 1908. She remains the oldest female Olympic gold medallist of them all. Newall beat off the challenge of Lottie Dod, the five-times Wimbledon singles tennis champion, to take the title. Dod's brother William won the men's event that year.

At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo the flame was lit by the Japanese track athlete Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the day the first atom bomb was dropped on the city. Sakai won silver in the 400m at the 1966 Asian Games, but never did take part in the Olympics.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a man flying through the air © PA Photos
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The only Royal flame-lighter was Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, at the Winter Games in Lillehammer in 1994. Both his father (the current King Harald V) and his grandfather (King Olav V) had taken part in Olympic yachting - Olav won a gold medal in Amsterdam in 1928.

At Melbourne in 1956 the flame was lit by a local teenager, the promising Australian runner Ron Clarke. Although he went on to set several world records on the track, Clarke never did win an Olympic gold medal, foiled by some fine American performances in 1964 and the altitude of Mexico in 1968.

At the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, after an opening ceremony notable for a man in an individual jet-powered flying suit, the flame was lit by Rafer Johnson, the 1960 Olympic decathlon champion - and a man who had been at Senator Robert Kennedy's side when the presidential candidate was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968.

At Seoul in 1988 the lighting of the Olympic flame coincided with the release of several hundred doves, signifying peace ... but the general hubbub disoriented several of the birds, which flew straight into the flames and died. Just to be on the safe side, the doves released at Atlanta in 1996 were made of paper.

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