In May 1934, the International Olympic Committee gave its approval to the idea of transporting a flame from Greece to Berlin. The idea came from Carl Diem, Secretary General of the Organising Committee of the Games of the XI Olympiad.
The route passed through the capitals of each of the countries visited.
On 20 July 1936 in Olympia, for this first Olympic torch relay, it was already a parabolic mirror which concentrated the rays of the sun that was used to light the flame. In attendance, Baron Pierre de Coubertin gave a message to the torchbearers, wishing them an enjoyable run. At the same time as the ceremony in Olympia, festivities were also staged in front of the Town Hall in Berlin.
Along the flame’s route to Berlin, ceremonies and festivities were held in its honour in the stopover cities. In Athens, for example, a ceremony attended by the King was held in the Panathenaic Stadium, a sports arena that was used for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. In Budapest, it was on Heroes’ Square, in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, that the flame was celebrated. The relay reached Berlin on 1 August 1936. Before joining the Opening Ceremony, the flame was used to light a cauldron that burned for the whole of the Games in the Lustgarten, in the city centre.
On 2 August, a flame was lit from that in the Olympic Stadium. It arrived in Kiel the next day, following a relay of 347km with 347 torchbearers. It burned on a boat in the city’s bay, where the sailing events were held.
On 7 August, another flame was lit from the cauldron in the Olympic Stadium and carried to Grünau, the site of the rowing and canoe events. One hundred and ninety one groups of runners consisting of one torchbearer and two supporters each ran one after the other over 37km.
Start date: 20 July 1936, Olympia (Greece)
End date: 1 August 1936, Olympic Stadium, Berlin (Germany)
First torchbearer: Konstantinos Kondylis
Last torchbearer: Fritz Schilgen
Number of torchbearers: 3,075 (Berlin-Kiel and Berlin-Grünau relays excluded): 1,108 in Greece, 238 in Bulgaria, 575 in Yugoslavia, 386 in Hungary, 219 in Austria, 282 in Czechoslovakia, 267 in Germany.
Recruitment of torchbearers: Each National Olympic Committee of the countries crossed was responsible for selecting the torchbearers in its respective territory.
Distance: 3,075km (Berlin-Kiel and Berlin-Grünau relays excluded): 1,108km in Greece, 238km in Bulgaria, 575km in Yugoslavia, 386km in Hungary, 219km in Austria, 282km in Czechoslovakia, 267km in Germany.
Countries visited: Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany
Description: The relay route and the Olympic rings topped by a German eagle are engraved on the handle, as is the inscription: “Fackel Staffel Lauf Olympia Berlin 1936”. The platform bears the inscription: “Organisations-Komitee für die XI. Olympiade Berlin 1936 Als Dank dem Träger”.
Height: 28cm (support), ~70cm in total
Fuel: Magnesium tube, flammable paste. The combustion time is at least 10 minutes.
Designer / Manufacturer: Carl Diem, Walter E. Lemcke / Friedrich Krupp AG
In Yugoslavia, over approximately 25km, certain torches showed signs of weakness and threatened to go out before the end of the foreseen combustion duration. In order not to take any risks, the torchbearers were taken to the next stage more quickly by car. The flame arrived without any problems and in advance in Jagodina, where it was kept burning before resuming its journey at the scheduled time.
The cauldron in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, in the shape of a tripod, was inspired by an Ancient Greek pattern, and was approximately 2.20 metres high.
This first relay was a popular success and the object of media coverage by the press, radio and the team shooting the Official Film of the Games.
Prior to the first Olympic torch relay, a symbolic fire burned at the top of a tower for the Amsterdam 1928 and Los Angeles 1932 Summer Games. However, these fires were not lit in Olympia or carried in a relay.
The idea to use a torch to transport the flame was not immediately imperative. The Organising Committee, being inspired by ancient methods, first thought to conserve the flame in bundles of narthex stalks, taken from a Mediterranean tree whose combustion is renowned for being slow. For practical reasons, the use of torches was finally favoured. As no torch on the market met the required criteria, the Organising Committee set about producing a specific torch.
A lantern was used to carry a back-up flame, which followed the relay by car.