Philip Barker ©ITG

As the Sochi Winter Olympics ended at the Fisht Stadium in 2014, the three mascots gazed wistfully as the flame flickered and died.

During the Games, it burnt in the Olympic Park, surrounded by water fountains which cascaded in a daily display synchronised to the music of great Russian composers.

Now the time has come again and the Olympic fire seems to burn even brighter against the darkness of winter.

There had been a flame at the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but a Torch Relay was not introduced until Berlin that summer.

Sapporo had originally been awarded the 1940 Winter Olympics but war with China put paid to Japanese ambitions. Instead they were re-allocated to Garmisch. The Germans planned a grand skiing festival, including a Torch Relay.

"The Olympic Fire will arrive, the runner approaches from the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Skiing Stadium, passes through a semicircle of Hitler Youth, approaches the bowl set up in front of the Fuehrer and ignites the flame," said the official communiqué.

Those plans never became reality because of war and it was not until 1952 that a winter Torch Relay was finally organised, when the Games were held in Oslo.

The flame was not lit in Olympia, but in the Norwegian hamlet of Morgedal, at the home of Sondre Norheim, considered the father of skiing.

"It was specifically stressed that this was no Olympic flame but a Torch greeting carried from the cradle of modern skiing, a natural form of greeting at that," said Norwegian officials. "The purpose of the Relay was to mark a definite and festive introduction to the Games,’’ 

The Relay lasted less than two days and covered a distance of only 312 kilometres.

A total of 94 Torchbearers were chosen, but their names were not widely publicised. "This anonymity was a silent tribute to skiing and all other Olympic winter sports," it was reported at the time.

At the marathon gate of Oslo’s Bislett stadium, the final Torchbearer was Eigil Nansen, grandson of the great explorer Fridtjof Nansen. After a lap of the arena, he unfastened his skis and ran up to light the cauldron.

The Sochi 2014 flame reflected on the ice dome ©Philip Barker
The Sochi 2014 flame reflected on the ice dome ©Philip Barker

The Winter Olympics in 1956 were set for the Italian resort of Cortina D’Ampezzo. This time the flame was lit at the Capitol in Rome.

The ceremony used a bowl sent from Olympia. At the balcony overlooking the Piazza del Campidoglio, it was greeted with a fanfare of trumpets and a release of doves. 

It was carried by 1948 discus champion Adolfo Consolini, and it was reported at the time that "wild applause broke out as Consolini descended."

He ran across the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Waiting on the other side was Giuseppe "Pino" Dordoni, the Olympic 50 kilometres race walk champion at Helsink 1958. 

"Of all the honours, I had received in sport, this was the greatest,"’ he said.

When it reached Venice, there was a journey along the Grand Canal by gondola, and when it finally reached Cortina,1952 Olympic downhill champion Zeno Colo skied down the mountains with the flame, tracked by red, white and green rockets.

The Olympic Cauldron was lit by speed skater Guido Caroli, who tripped over a trailing wire in the Olympic Ice Stadium but still managed to keep the flame alight.

The 1960 hosts Squaw Valley had appointed Walt Disney as ‘"head of pageantry" and proudly announced the flame would be lit in Greece. Unfortunately no-one thought to ask the Hellenic Olympic Committee until it was too late.

Squaw Valley 1960 President Prentis C Hale still insisted "a helicopter could be chartered to take the flame from Olympia to Athens".

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chancellor Otto Mayer was unconvinced. "When one takes into consideration the months required for the organising in preparation for this procedure, one can readily understand why the Greeks did not want to venture in so hazardous an adventure just a few days before the opening ceremony,"’ he said.

Swiss journalist Frederic Schattler observed sarcastically, "In this case 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."

The Cavalleria Nizza carry the 2006 flame to Turin ©Philip Barker
The Cavalleria Nizza carry the 2006 flame to Turin ©Philip Barker

So it was back to Norway and Morgedal, where the flame was lit at and flown to the United States.

When it arrived in Los Angeles, shot putter Parry O’Brien was there to receive it. Watched by Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson, he handed it to young athlete Bruce Best, the first of 600 high school students to carry it to Squaw Valley, where it burned near a Tower of the Nations.

In 1964 the Winter Games were held in Innsbruck. For the first time the flame was kindled in Ancient Olympia and Dionyssis Kessaris thus became the first Greek to carry a winter flame.

That ceremony was notable for another reason. Athletics coach Otto Simiczek, later dean of the International Olympic Academy, suggested that celebrated Greek dancer Maria Horss be asked to direct the ceremonies. 

‘"I was working normally in the theatre when Otto Simiczek saw one of my choreographies," Horss said later. "I accepted at once, the fact that I took part in the first ceremony in 1936 played an important part," 

It was the beginning of an association of over 40 years but Horss soon discovered that lighting a winter flame for Winter Games posed their own problems, often related to the weather.

"We never give up no matter how bad the weather is,"’ she said.

Even so, some of the ceremony was sometimes held indoors at the nearby Museum of Antiquities.

In 1968, for the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, the flame was also taken to Mount Olympus. This is hundreds of miles away from Olympia, though many still confuse the two.

The 1972 Winter Games were to be held in Sapporo. The Japanese organisers planned an expansive Relay throughout the country.

The Organising Committee was represented by Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda.

"I have just had the Olympic sacred fire delivered to me," he said. "The fire will be brought to Japan by air encouraging the Olympic spirit amongst youths in all part of Japan."

The sacred altis where the flame will be lit in preparation for Pyeongchang 2018 ©Philip Barker
The sacred altis where the flame will be lit in preparation for Pyeongchang 2018 ©Philip Barker

They chose Hideki Takada, a 16-year-old schoolboy, to light the Cauldron.

Innsbruck stepped in as host city for 1976 at short notice after Denver had handed back the Games.

"Two pillars of flame will symbolize the fact that Innsbruck is host to Winter Olympics for the second time in 12 years," said organisers.

For the first time, a woman was chosen - skier Christl Haas joined lugeist Josef Feistmantl. Both were 1964 Olympic champions and in turn they lit the two Cauldrons.

Incidentally, a third bowl was added in 2012 for the Youth Olympic Games on the same site.

The American resort of Lake Placid was another to host the Winter Games more than once. 48 years separated the Olympic years of 1932 and 1980.

They planned a relay of nine days and 1600km. The route was divided in Albany to allow as many as possible to see the flame. 

"’These two routes serve to embrace the entire Adirondack region, uniting the whole area in the Olympic spirit," said Lake Placid protocol director Stephen Stanton.

The flame was carried on US Presidential jet Air Force One, on which it was brought to Langley Air Force base in Virginia, where the domestic journey began.

There were 52 runners, representing the 50 states of the US, together with the District of Columbia and Lake Placid itself, and the 26 men and 26 women ran in teams of 13. Unusually for the time, they wore bright yellow tracksuits.

"I think this is the atmosphere we need to start the Olympics,"’ said 24-year-old Richard Soaper, the Torchbearer from Kentucky. 

The Cauldron lighter chosen on the final day was Dr Charles Morgan Kerr, a psychiatrist from Tucson, Arizona.

America's "Miracle on Ice" hockey team from Lake Placid 1980 lit the Olympic Cauldron at Salt Lake City 2002 ©Getty Images

In 1984, the Winter Games were held in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, then part of Yugoslavia.

The flame was lit in Olympia and proved to be the only Olympic Relay on Greek soil that year after a dispute between the Greek authorities and Los Angeles 1984.

Sarajevo’s flame arrived in Dubrovnik and was carried east and west. The Torchbearers were followed by runners bearing the Olympic, Yugoslav and Greek flags.

In Sarajevo, as figure skater Sandra Dubravcic approached the cauldron, a carpet made up of the Olympic colours appeared behind her.

Calgary 1988 organisers were determined to emulate the success of Los Angeles 1984, the first truly mass participation Relay. They were staggered to receive some 6,500,000 applications to take part.

Their Relay began its domestic journey from Newfoundland, carried by St. Moritz 1948 skating champion Barbara Ann Scott and Ferd Hayward, a race walker from Helsinki 1952. To maintain the element of surprise for the crowds, the pair went into hiding before the big day with code names "Bonnie’ and ‘Clyde".

Calgar 1988 President Frank King called it "the most successful in Olympic history", adding "The Olympic flame had a magical effect on people of all ages, seeking to touch the handle of the Torch as if to receive some form of spiritual nourishment. It was like a blessing.’"

After a journey of 18,000km, 12-year-old Robyn Perry lit the Olympic Cauldron. "She personified the hope and promise of the future," said organisers.

An even younger child was chosen in 1992. Nine-year-old Francois-Cyrille Grange was accompanied by French football superstar Michel Platini in Albertville.

The 1994 Games in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer were the first to be staged in a new cycle separate from the Summer Olympics.

The flame visited the German Sport University in homage to founder Carl Diem, one of the guiding lights behind the earliest Torch Relay.

Norwegian organisers had wanted to light a flame in Morgedal and unite it with one lit in Olympia. 

The Olympic cauldrons for 1964 and 1976 at Innsbruck ©Philip Barker
The Olympic cauldrons for 1964 and 1976 at Innsbruck ©Philip Barker

Objections came from the Hellenic Olympic Committee and in fact only Olympia’s flame was brought to the Lillehammer stadium. Ski jumper Stein Gruben soared into the air with the flaming Torch in a spectacular climax to the Opening Ceremony, before Crown Prince Haakon Magnus lit the cauldron.

When the 1998 flame arrived in Japan, it was split into three to cover as much of the country as possible and re-united shortly before the Olympics in Nagano’s central square.

Figure skater Midori Ito wore a traditional kimono as she lit the Olympic Cauldron, the last time this was done in daylight.

The new millennium saw each successive host city organise ambitious Olympic Torch Relays.

"Light the Fire within" was the theme at Salt Lake 2002.

Muhammed Ali launched a journey across the United States. Skating champions Peggy Fleming and Scott Hamilton carried the flame in the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium before the Cauldron was lit by members of the 1980 gold medal men’s ice hockey team. The Americans fondly recall the "Miracle on Ice"’.

The Turin 2006 Relay travelled exactly 2,006km in Greece. Amongst the bearers was windsurfing champion Nikos Kaklamanakis, the final Torchbearer at Athens 2004. His participation in nearby Patras provided a link with the previous Olympics.

Japan’s skiing silver medallist and IOC member Chiharu "Chick" Igaya held the Torch as it crossed the Rio Bridge.

In Italy it visited Cortina, 50 years to the day since the 1956 Olympics were opened, and briefly crossed the border into France to acknowledge previous Olympic Winter hosts. It finally burned in a tower 57 metres above the city’s Stadio Communale, now renamed "Olimpico" in honour of the Games.

Vancouver keenly awaited the flame in 2010. "The longest national Olympic Torch Relay in history will create a spirit of global community and friendship," said IOC President Jacques Rogge in Olympia. "It will invite Canadians and visitors from around the world to gather and celebrate the Games with glowing hearts."

Greek skier Vassilis Dimitriadis began the Relay and carved his own niche in Olympic history. He had also done so in Nagano 1998, but became the first winter Torchbearer to receive the flame in the Ancient Stadium in Athens. Previously runners had been handed the Torch in front of a monument to Pierre de Coubertin, some 300 metres away.

In Athens, Canada’s Governor-General Michaelle Jean witnessed the handover. Its eventual arrival in Victoria in British Columbia, was by red cedar canoe, crewed by representatives of First Nations.

The Olympic Cauldron for Sochi 2014 glistens against a Russian sunset ©Philip Barker
The Olympic Cauldron for Sochi 2014 glistens against a Russian sunset ©Philip Barker

The idea was that Torchbearers "would circle the nation like ancient heralds, inviting all Canadians to share in the Games".

Speedskater Catriona LeMay Doan, a double Olympic gold medallist, carried the flame. She would re-appear as one of the Torch lighters at the Opening Ceremony months later.

Organisers took inspiration from Calgary 1988 in recruiting their 12,000 runners. Barbara Ann Scott was again a bearer, this time at the Canadian Parliament.

Another hero of Calgary  1988, British ski jumper Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards, a cult figure for Canadians, ran in Winnipeg.

The flame even visited Calgary’s giant tepee where Robyn Ainsworth - née Perry - lit a Cauldron just as she had done 22 years before.

The Opening Ceremony was held indoors for the first time at BC place. Inside, the fire burned symbolically, though ice hockey superstar Wayne Gretsky later took it to a city centre site.

There was a similar nationwide Torch Relay in Russia four years ago and the Opening Ceremony in Sochi was also indoors, at the Fisht Olympic Stadium. Many were surprised to see tennis player Maria Sharapova amongst the Torchbearers. Then in the grand climax, skater Irina Rodnina and ice hockey goalminder Vladislav Tretiak raced outside to light the flame in the huge tower.

Former Manchester United star Park Ji Sung will be the first South Korean to carry the 2018 flame for Pyeongchang 2018. Like skater Yuna Kim, he is an official ambassador. Both seem certain to play a prominent role when the flame reaches Korean soil.

For one Greek performer, choreographer Artemis Ignatiou, the ceremonies for Pyeongchang 2018 will complete a full circle. 

In 1988, as young dancer, Ignatiou took part in her first ceremony in Olympia as the flame was lit for Seoul. Now she directs the entire performance.