Once lit in Olympia, the flame reached Athens, where it was passed on to representatives of the Beijing Games Organising Committee on 30 March 2008 in the Panathenaic Stadium. On 31 March, the flame landed in Beijing. From there, it continued its journey around the world, which took it to 19 cities on the five continents before reaching Hong Kong, then Macao and, finally, Mainland China.
Part of the path of the relay was inspired by the Silk Road, with some of the cities crossed located on this ancient network of commercial roads between Asia and Europe. In addition to travelling to all the continents, the organisers’ aim was to circulate the Olympic flame widely in Asia within the framework of the international relay.
In Mainland China, the relay crossed 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. It began on 4 May in Sanya, in the province of Hainan, with five-time Olympic speed skating medallist Yang Yang (A) as the first torchbearer. Arriving in Hangzhou on 18 May, the relay took a break of three days between the 19th and 21st of May to mark the national mourning for the victims of the dramatic earthquake which had struck the province of Sichuan a few days before, on 12 May. The organisers also decided to modify the relay route so that the flame visited the province of Sichuan at the end of its journey. Originally planned between 15 and 18 June, the journey through the ravaged province finally took place between 3 and 5 August, just before the flame reached Beijing.
On the morning of 6 August, the flame reached Beijing and travelled for three days through the capital. On 8 August, at the Opening Ceremony, the flame was carried by relay to the Stadium by seven famous Chinese athletes, one after the other: Haifeng Xu, Min Gao, Xiaoshuang Li, Xugang Zhan, Jun Zhang, Zhong Chen and Jinfang Sun. The torch was then entrusted to Ning Li, a six-time medallist in gymnastics at the Los Angeles 1984 Games. Lifted by cables, Ning Li took flight and moved in the air doing a lap along the edge of the Stadium roof, until he reached the cauldron, which he finally lit.
Start date: 24 March 2008, Olympia (Greece)
End date: 8 August 2008, National Stadium, Beijing (People’s Republic of China)
First torchbearer: Alexandros Nikolaidis, Olympic participant in taekwondo (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012), silver medallist in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008
Last torchbearers: Ning Li, Olympic participant in gymnastics (1984, 1988), three-time gold medallist, two-time silver and one-time bronze medallist in Los Angeles 1984
Number of torchbearers: 21,800 in total, of which ~630 were in Greece
Recruitment of torchbearers: According to the principles of the recruitment programme communicated by the Organisers, the selection of torchbearers aimed to be representative of all social backgrounds. It was carried out through the following entities: the governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities of the People’s Republic of China; the Chinese Olympic Committee; the official partners of the torch relay and sponsors of the Games; the Olympic family; the cities of countries crossed by the international relay; the Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG). Each entity chose its torchbearers through a public and/or internal process.
Distance: 137,000km in total, of which 1,528km was in Greece and 97,000km in continental China
Countries visited: Greece, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, United States, Argentina, Tanzania, Oman, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vietnam, People’s Republic of China
Description: The shape of the torch recalls that of a parchment scroll. Its curved body is made of anodised aluminium. A carved etched pattern representing lucky clouds covers the surface of the upper part of the torch. The two ends of the torch also have the shape of a cloud, a very old decorative element from Chinese art which can be found on buildings, sculptures and furniture. The red Chinese lacquer symbolises the spirit of celebration, enthusiasm and luck. A fine layer of rubber-based varnish covers the handle of the torch. It facilitates the grip and aims to imitate the contact of human skin as if the torchbearer were holding a friend’s hand.
Colour: Silver, red
Composition: Aluminium, rubber
Fuel: Propane. Average burning time of about 15 minutes.
Designer / Manufacturer: Lenovo China, Aerospace Science & Industry / Zhongshan Vatti Gas Appliance Stock Co., Ltd.
In order to climb Mount Qomolangma (Everest), a second Olympic flame was lit and sent to Tibet from the flame which had arrived in Beijing on 31 March 2008. It reached the summit of the highest mountain in the world on 8 May. The safety lamp and torch were specially modified to allow the flame to burn at the high altitude. On 21 June in Lhassa, this flame then re-joined the one of the relay which travelled through China.
The cauldron was 32 metres high and weighed 45 tonnes. At the Opening Ceremony, it was discreetly put in place using a system of rails while the crowds’ attention was focused on the Athletes’ Parade.
The choice of a parchment scroll as the basic shape for the torch is due to chance. The idea arose in a meeting, when a staff member casually rolled up a piece of paper. It was at that moment that the designers realised that the shape which was formed resembled that of a torch.
The safety lamp was inspired by traditional lanterns used in ancient Chinese palaces. The round and square shapes found in the design symbolise the Chinese concept of round sky and square Earth. Like the torch, it bears the pattern of lucky clouds.
The height of 72cm was derived from 8 x 9: two figures that express luck and longevity in Chinese culture.