Philip Barker: The lighting of the Sochi Olympic Cauldron will surely be as memorable as those of the past
Friday, 27 September 2013
Only once has a Russian city hosted the Olympic Games. En route to Moscow in 1980, it travelled through Bulgaria and Romania to reach the Soviet Union. At the Lenin Stadium, basketball player Sergei Belov dramatically ran up a pathway held above the crowd to light the cauldron. In Sochi, that moment will surely be as memorable.
A flame had burned from a tower at the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Later that year a flame borne from Olympia in Greece to Berlin started a symbolic tradition.
Sapporo was initially chosen to stage the next Winter Olympics, but Japan was soon embroiled in war and withdrew - Sapporo did eventually host the Games in 1972.
After lengthy discussions, the 1940 Games were reassigned, first to St Moritz and then Garmisch.
"The Olympic Fire will arrive, borne from the Skiing Stadium by relay runners. The Olympic fanfare will be blown from the heights and words by Fridtjof Nansen will fill the air."
The German plans came to nothing as the world descended into war.
The Olympic flag did not fly again until the 1948 Winter Games in St Moritz. The Norwegian capital followed in 1952. Olav Bjaaland suggested a "cross country ski relay to Oslo, where the last skier was to light the fire".
The flame was lit in Morgedal, the home of Sondre Norheim, founding father of Norwegian skiing.
"This was a Torch greeting from the cradle of modern skiing." In Oslo, the last of 94 skiers was Eigil Nansen, grandson of the polar explorer.
In 1956, the fire was lit in Rome on the steps of the Capitoline Jove - the temple of Jupiter - in a tripod sent from Olympia. On its route to host resort Cortina d'Ampezzo, crowds flocked to see it.
The 1952 Olympic downhill champion Zeno Colò made the descent with the flame on the opening morning. Speed skater Guido Caroli was the final Torchbearer.
As he passed the Presidential box, he tripped on a microphone cable. Though he did not let the flame go out, he was inconsolable.
"I am so ashamed," he said. There was a happy postscript. At the Opening Ceremony in Torino 50 years later, Caroli was an honoured guest.
"The final leg of the Torch's spectacular round the world journey will include a helicopter ride to the mountains surrounding Squaw Valley," boasted organisers of the 1960 Winter Games after Walt Disney was put in charge of "pageantry".
They told everyone that the flame would be lit in Ancient Olympia, but failed to ask the Greeks in time for arrangements to be made.
Swiss reporter Frederic Schattler observed sarcastically: "It is infinitely easier to order the sun to rise in Walt Disney's films than to make the sun shine in Olympia during the winter."
Instead, the flame was lit in Morgedal once more and flown to America.
On the opening day, double 1952 gold medallist Andrea Mead skied with the Torch from Little Papoose Peak, escorted by members of the National Ski Patrol.
She handed the Torch to another 1952 veteran, Olympic speed skating champion Ken Henry who lit the Cauldron.
In 1964, the Games were returned to the mountains of Europe when Innsbruck was chosen. The flame was lit in Ancient Olympia. International Olympic Academy official Otto Szymiczek suggested that the choreography of the ceremony be entrusted to classical Greek dancer Maria Horss. In 1936, she had helped light the very first flame. She took to the task and continued in the role until her eighties.
The flame was first flown to Vienna and then on to Innsbruck where the Opening ceremony was low key after two competitors died in training accidents. Skier Josef Rieder slowly walked up the steps to light the Cauldron.
Within 12 years, the flame would return to Innsbruck, pressed into service as emergency hosts for 1976. Denver, the intended venue, had to withdraw after a public referendum. The Austrians were delighted to welcome back the Games and a second Cauldron burned to celebrate.
The Winter Torch Relay was not yet as ambitious as those for the Summer Games in 1968, but the lighting ceremony was fraught with difficulty.
"The President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee kept shouting at us to stop, but we never gave up no matter how bad the weather had become," recalled ceremony director Horss.
The flame was taken to France where some 5,000 runners carried the flame around the country to Grenoble.
When skater Alain Calmat approached the Cauldron, the sound of his heartbeat was even projected over loudspeakers.
Lake Placid was one of the smallest communities to play Olympic host. It staged the Winter Games for the second time in 1980. They took a novel approach to the Torch Relay and chose 52 people who "best exemplified the ancient Greek ideal of the whole man."
Sarajevo was awarded the Winter Games for 1984. At the time it was still part of Socialist Yugoslavia. The flame touched in what organisers referred to as "freedom loving" Dubrovnik. It was divided to take distinct routes around the whole country and it was claimed a million and a half people saw it during a journey of 5,289 kilometres.
There were contingency plans for bad weather involving skiers rather than runners "but owing to the well organised clearing service on all roads of the flame route, this did not occur".
Skiers were called into service to carry the flame into the Koševo Stadium before speed skater Sanda Dubravčić lit the Cauldron.
That summer, Los Angeles staged the most expansive Torch Relay yet, and Calgary's 1988 Winter Games committee watched with interest.
"Los Angeles showed us the light with its successful relay," said Calgary 1988 supremo Frank King.
Race walker Ferd Hayward and 1948 Olympic champion Barbara Ann Scott were the first to carry the Torch on Canadian soil to start an 88-day odyssey that took it to the Arctic Circle by dog sled. Snowmobiles also carried the flame.
In Toronto, it was carried by a Canadian sporting hero - Ben Johnson. In the autumn, Johnson's disqualification after the 100 metres final for doping would be the sensation of Seoul 1988, Johnson a hero no longer.
Calgary set one record before the Games had even begun. Twelve-year-old skater Robyn Perry was the youngest to have lit the cauldron, after the Thunderbirds of the Royal Canadian Air Force roared overhead. As Robyn Perry Ainsworth, she carried the flame again in 2010.
In 1992, a special flight by Concorde took a precious cargo from Greece to Paris. The flame for Albertville lit up the Champs-Élysées and then called in at Mirville, where Pierre de Coubertin had spent part of his youth.
Nine-year-old François-Cyrille Grange from Valloire took centre stage in Albertville itself. Michel Platini, who competed in football at 1976, became the first Summer Olympian to help light a winter Cauldron.
Lillehammer in Norway became the first town to stage the Winter Games in a different year from the Summer Games after the cycle was switched in 1994.
Their flame was even exchanged between two parachutists above Germany.
Meanwhile, a separate fire was lit in Morgedal. This met the flame from Olympia before continuing to the Paralympics. The Olympic flame, which had visited the other Scandinavian countries, arrived at the stadium by ski jumper before the Crown Prince provided the final touch.
Skater Midori Ito had greeted the flame as it returned to Japanese soil for Nagano's Games in 1998. Organisers hit on an inspired choice to convey a message of peace - land mine victim Chris Moon carried the flame accompanied by hundreds of children.
Four years later, Muhammad Ali began the domestic portion of Salt Lake City's Relay in Atlanta, the very city where he had ignited the Cauldron at the 1996 Games.
Over 11,500 carried the flame in a 13,000-mile journey, which promised "to light the fire within", but the real surprise came at the end. The Cauldron was lit by the entire 1980 gold medal winning ice hockey team.
Posters for Torino 2006 promised the "warmest winter for 50 years" and they were not talking about climate change. By now, another classical dancer Artemis Ignatiou was in charge of the lighting ceremony in Olympia. A few miles into the Relay, windsurfing gold medallist Nikolaos Kaklamanakis emulated Muhammad Ali. He too had previously lit the Cauldron for the Summer Games before carrying the Winter Torch. In Italy, a 64-day journey began in Rome and the cavalcade reached Cortina on the 50th anniversary of their 1956 Winter Games. The route also visited Chamonix - 1924 hosts - and Grenoble - 1968 - and Albertville - 1992.
Finally, it reached Torino's Stadio Olimpico. Stefania Belmondo, Italy's great Nordic skier, lit a taper and after a stunning pyrotechnic display before the Cauldron, the tallest in Olympic history, burst into life.
In 2010, it was destination Vancouver, the second Canadian host city and another countrywide torch relay. In Winnipeg, it was carried by Michael Edwards. Better known as "Eddie the Eagle" he was the superstar of Calgary 1988 despite finishing last in the ski jump. When the flame reached Vancouver, London 2012 chairman Seb Coe was a bearer.
"When we got onto the bus at four in the morning, the thing I remember is listening to the stories of people who had made big changes to their lives," he said. "These stories were far more exciting for me than running with the Torch. They were real people taking about the way the Games had affected them."
The Opening Ceremony was the first held indoors, Paralympian Rick Hansen, speedskater Catriona Doan, basketball star Steve Nash, ski gold medallist Nancy Greene and ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky all lit the base of a giant tepee to ignite the flame. Then Gretzky lit a further Cauldron outside.
Russia has many great winter champions so their cauldron lighter is difficult to predict. How about ice hockey goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, whose grandson Maxim played in the 2012 Youth Olympics, or triple gold medal winning figure skater Irina Rodnina? The suspense and the speculation will endure until Sochi is lit up by the Olympic fire.
Born in Hackney, a stone's throw from the 2012 Olympic Stadium, Philip Barker has worked as a television journalist for 25 years. He began his career with Trans World Sport, then as a reporter for Sky Sports News and the ITV breakfast programme. A regular Olympic pundit on BBC Radio, Sky News and TalkSPORT, he is associate editor of the Journal of Olympic History, has lectured at the National Olympic Academy and contributed extensively to Team GB publications.