It was Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus to give to mankind – a benevolent theft celebrated by the ancients at the original Olympics on the altar of Hestia. The idea for passing the flaming brand from runner to runner was conceived some time later by Carl Diem, architect of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and approved by his boss, the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
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Whatever its dodgy provenance, the torch relay has become a central part of the modern Olympic tradition.
Yesterday the British public was offered its "moment to shine" when nominations were opened for 8,000 "inspirational torchbearers" to carry the movement's symbol to the "doorstep" of those across the UK who might otherwise feel excluded from the London-based sporting festival. Of these lucky citizens, however, nearly 6,000 will be selected by the Games' major sponsors in processes run by Coca-Cola, Lloyds TSB and Samsung.
Although no one has yet been chosen, it is likely that the runners, walkers or wheelchair users completing each 300m leg will include a smattering of celebrities and famous sports people such as footballer David Beckham, heptathlete Jessica Ennis and former British Olympic stars such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Sally Gunnell.
London 2012 chairman Lord Coe said he wants half of the torchbearers selected to be aged between 12 and 24 with the remainder made up of those with a background of local achievement or inspirational community leadership.
"The power of the flame and the torch is palpable. I have seen it in the Games that I have competed in and the Games that I have worked in," said Lord Coe, who won 1500m golds at both Moscow and Los Angeles.
However next year's games will break from tradition by dropping the international torch relay after protesters sought to highlight China's human rights record by disrupting the flame's progress through London in the run-up to Beijing 2008. Lord Coe urged people not to use the torch's passage to publicise their cause.
The torch begins its route 70 days ahead of the opening ceremony, starting at Lands End on 19 May, travelling to Wales, Scotland's Highlands and Islands, Ireland and England before being brought into the Olympic stadium in Stratford on 27 July.Reuse content