Guido Caroli, right, was the first athlete to light a Cauldron at a Winter Olympics in 1956 ©Getty Images

The deaths of some 140 Olympians have been recorded in 2021, and amongst them was the first athlete to light a Cauldron at an Olympic Winter Games.

Guido Caroli, 94, a three-times Olympic speed skater who was the final Torchbearer at the 1956 Games in Cortina D’Ampezzo, lived to see the award of the 2026 Winter Olympic Games to his home city of Milan in conjunction with Cortina.

"Milan is ready, it lacks nothing and Cortina was already wonderful 60 years ago," Caroli said at the time of the host city election in 2019.

He had made his own Olympic debut at St Moritz in 1948 where his best placing was 31st in the men’s 5,000m. He also competed at the 1952 Games in Oslo where he was 28th in the 10,000m.

His fastest times over 500m and 1500m came in 1955 to earn him selection for a third Games.

He also won the Italian Championships on the Olympic track. In those days speed skating always took place outdoors.

He wore the Italian flag on his uniform as he received the Flame from 1952 downhill skiing gold medallist Zeno Colo.

Newspapers reported how "the flaming Torch and its carrier Guido Caroli went sprawling on the ice, but Caroli held on to the Torch and it didn’t go out."

Although the moment was carefully edited out of newsreel coverage of the Ceremony, photographs of the incident were published in newspapers around the world.

Speed skater Guido Caroli, left, competed at three Winter Olympics - 1948, 1952 and 1956 ©Getty Images
Speed skater Guido Caroli, left, competed at three Winter Olympics - 1948, 1952 and 1956 ©Getty Images

"It may seem a little thing but I doubt whether an athlete has ever felt himself more humiliated," veteran sports reporter Peter Wilson wrote in the Daily Mirror.

Others observed that Caroli "was still weeping when the ceremony was closed. The only words he could force out were, I am so ashamed."

Later though, he received consoling words from Italian State President Giovanni Gronchi and competed in both 500m and 1500m in the Cortina Games.

When the Games returned to Italian soil in 2006, Caroli was a welcome guest. He joined Alpine skier Kristian Ghedina in Cortina to light another Cauldron on the 50th anniversary of the opening of those Games.

Later at the Opening Ceremony at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico, he was invited on stage by the ceremony host to recount his own experience in 1956.

"They had left a microphone cable along the track. I actually noticed it during the rehearsal the day before," Caroli admitted.

"The Master of Ceremonies had also warned me to be careful but made sure that they would have disconnected it. The problem is that the night was so cold, the plug froze to the point that no one was able to remove it. Too bad that no one warned me."

Caroli died in September in his home city of Milan.