Thinner, longer, golder... UK unveils Olympic torch

It is triangular, reflecting the three occasions that London has hosted the Games

The prototypes have already been likened to a golden cheese-grater, a plutocrat's loofah or even a bling wastepaper basket, but come 2012 the London Olympic torch will be virtually guaranteed the distinction of becoming the hottest item on eBay.

Unveiled yesterday to a predictable chorus of unfavourable comparisons it emerged that all 8,000 bearers taking part in next year's cross-Britain relay will be offered the exclusive opportunity to purchase their own individual copy of the beacon they carry.

Starting at around £250 for a limited edition of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby's flaming symbol of human sporting achievement, the torch is likely to prove a winner in the resale market even if it didn't go down well on internet message boards yesterday.

A torch from the 1948 London Olympics was recently offered for sale for £7,500 while those from other Games command similarly high prices.

While neither of the ultra-fashionable Shoreditch-based design duo were willing to be drawn on a suitable name or price for their torch they said they were honoured to be chosen for the task after beating 500 rivals.

Highlighting the 800mm beacon's hi-tech aluminum casing and laser technology, and its mesh of 8,000 holes – one for each runner and mile of the journey next summer – they said they wanted to take the Olympic symbol to new levels.

"We wanted to make the most of pioneering production technologies and to demonstrate the industrial excellence available in the UK – it's a torch for our time," said Osgerby.

Included in the design brief was creating something portable and safe enough to be held by the many young torchbearers while also allowing the flame to be visible to spectators. The 800g finished product is triangular, reflecting the three times that London has hosted the Games – in 1908, 1948 and 2012 – as well as representing the Olympic values of respect, excellence and friendship, organisers said. But it emerged one ideal originally envisaged by the London hosts has already been snuffed out after Olympic sponsor EDF Energy said its prototype low-carbon fuel made of a miscanthus or elephant grass briquette would not be ready in time.

A mixture of propane and butane gas will now be used to fire the torch. It is an embarrassment for London 2012 which included the boast of an environmentally friendly torch in its claim to stage the greenest ever Olympics. Shaun McCarthy, chairman of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, which monitors the green claims of the Games, said the failure to deliver was an embarrassment.

"The promise of a low-carbon torch was made in 2007 and so the excuse of 'We ran out of time' is not acceptable," he said. "The carbon contribution of this initiative may have been relatively small, but the power of the message would have been highly significant."

The torch relay will begin at Land's End next May, arriving at the Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony on 27 July. It will criss-cross the country for 70 days. Although the name of the final torchbearer is being kept secret, the favourite to complete the last leg is five-times gold medal-winning rower Sir Steve Redgrave.

A history of the Olympic torch

1936: Berlin With an eye for the theatrical, the Nazis introduced the torch relay as a symbol of the modern Games. It was designed by Walter Lemcke, who also carved the eagles on the Berlin Air Ministry.

1948: London One of Ralph Laver's aluminum torch holders is kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and is hailed as a "great example of British craftsmanship". It was inspired by the torches of ancient Greece and Rome.

1980: Moscow Soviet engineers broke from tradition for their revolutionary torch for the Russian Games. In a nod to Cold War tensions of the time, the design incorporated a small red star.

1996: Atlanta The tallest torch so far, and the only one designed to be grasped in the middle, this was modelled on a cluster of reeds bound with twine. Muhammad Ali used it to light the flame in the Olympic stadium.

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