Olympic Games
Sports 07/08/2021

The Olympic flame that was lit with a lighter

In 1976 the flame of the Montreal stadium went out and a worker decided to get down to business

2 min
The Olympic flame of the 1976 Games

Years go by and the lighting of the Barcelona 1992 cauldron is still unsurpassed. The arrow of Antonio Rebollo crossing the sky became one of the most remembered images in the history of the Olympic movement. The idea of having a cauldron with an Olympic flame, however, was not born in 1896. It was not until Amsterdam 1928 when adding solemnity to the Games was decided, more and more consolidated every day, with this idea that intended to remember when Prometheus stole the fire from the gods of Olympus. It was a way of continuing to link Olympism with ancient Greece. The idea was nice, but in 1928 they considered that just having the flame was enough. So it was lit by a worker of the Dutch gas company.

The whole ritual around the flame was the work of, like it or not, Nazi Germany. When they organized the 1936 games, they decided to give the idea a twist. Since Hitler liked to look to the past for signs that the Germans were a chosen people and he was their leader, the idea was to carry the flame, in relays, from the rubble of ancient Olympia to Berlin. The Nazis were already telling the world that they felt like crossing Europe from end to end playing with fire, but at that time many did not yet see it. The filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, by the way, went even further when in her film about the Games, Olympia, she recreated with actresses the lighting of the fire in Olympia. The idea was well received. And all the Games have remained faithful to the tradition, which begins when in the old Olympia, using sunlight, a fire is lit and carried to the city chosen to host the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee always generates different flames from the initial fire, lest the torch goes out. Or some anti-Olympic protester tries to extinguish it, as has happened more than once.

In 1976 the flame arrived in Montreal in one piece. But one day when there was no sporting activity in the Olympic stadium, a strong storm, one of those with wind and rain, extinguished it. In the stadium there were only a few workers preparing everything for the competition days. One of them, a certain Pierre Bouchard, decided to do something about it. With a cigarette in his mouth, he lit newspaper with his lighter and did not stop until he had the Olympic flame burning again. The man must have thought he had done well, but, when it became known, the people in charge of the Olympic Games extinguished the flame and relit it again with the original reserve fire that they had kept. Olympism has these things. Apart from the great athletes, a Dutch and a Canadian worker have also lit the cauldron.

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