Let the Games begin -- officially -- with the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron.
Since 1936, the Olympic torch relay has served as a reminder to the world of the rich traditions tying the modern Games to the ancient Olympics. Originating in Olympia, Greece, the torch continues to be lit in Greece before traveling through the host country in the months leading up to the Olympics.
While thousands of people take part in the relay as torchbearers, the most memorable moments typically come at the end of the Opening Ceremony when the torch makes its way through the venue and toward the Olympic Cauldron. While every host city puts its own spin on the cauldron-lighting ceremony, one thing remains consistent – the fact that it marks the official commencement of the Olympics.
Here is more information about the tradition of the Olympic Cauldron, some notable people who have lit the cauldron in the past and what the world can expect to see in Beijing this year.
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What is the Olympic Cauldron?
The Olympic Cauldron is a structure typically placed at the Opening Ceremony venue and indicates the end of the Olympic torch relay. It is typically lit in the middle of the Opening Ceremony and serves as the official start of the Olympic Games.
Similar to the Olympic medals, the Cauldron design is another opportunity for the host city to highlight the ideals of both their country and the Olympic movement at large as well as set the tone for the Games.
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Who lights the Olympic Cauldron?
The selection of what athlete or groups of athletes light the Olympic Cauldron is up to the host country. In some cases, they’ll select notable former athletes, stars on the rise or occasionally a non-athlete who is significant to that specific country.
Who are some notable people who have lit the Olympic Cauldron in the past?
Think you have to be an Olympian to light the Olympic Cauldron? Think again -- although it might help your odds. Athletes, dignitaries and everyday citizens have all had a role in lighting the Olympic Cauldron.
Some of the notable athletes who have had the honor of anchoring the torch relay include Wayne Gretzky (2010 Vancouver), Muhammad Ali (1996 Los Angeles) and most recently Naomi Osaka (2020 Tokyo).
In other cases, the host country opts to go for a more symbolic choice, one that represents the enduring spirit of the Olympics and unique history of that city. In 1964, Japan selected Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima the day an atomic bomb was dropped, as a symbol of Japan’s rebirth. The 1976 Montreal Games kicked off with the cauldron being lit by two Canadian teenagers who represented the French- and English-speaking parts of the country.
More recently, some host countries have opted to go for bigger, splashier finishes featuring a large group of representatives. When Gretzky lit the cauldron in 2010, he was part of a quartet of Canadian athletes including current Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash. Just two years later, London surpassed that number with seven teenagers – each nominated by a former British Olympic champion – lighting the cauldron.
Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, is the only dignitary to light the cauldron, doing so at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Games on behalf of his father and grandfather who both represented Norway in sailing.
Who lit the cauldron at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics?
Figure skater Yuna Kim lit the most recent Winter Olympic Cauldron in South Korea. Kim, who won gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, skated around a small ice rink at the top level of the stadium before lighting a base fire with a ladder that climbed up to the cauldron.
Who was the first woman to light the Olympic cauldron?
Enriqueta Basilio was the first woman to light the Olympic cauldron at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Basilio was 20 years old when she represented Mexico in the sprints on the track.
Since then, 15 women have participated in the cauldron-lighting ceremony.
When does the 2022 Beijing Olympic relay begin?
The Olympic torch was lit on Oct. 18 in Greece before quickly being transported to Beijing. A long-standing tradition of both the ancient and modern Olympic Games, the torch typically spends a week in Greece before traveling around the host country. However, officials opted to immediately send the torch to Beijing this year, citing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
When will we know who is lighting the Olympic cauldron in Beijing?
The announcement of who will light the next Olympic cauldron likely won’t come until right before the Opening Ceremony. However, as the Games draw nearer expect to hear some rumblings of potential picks by the Chinese delegation.