WHO has declared the coronavius outbreak a pandemic. This health scare has caused pandemonium in the sports world making March Madness even madder with the announcement games will be played without fans present. The craziness has taken its toll on an even higher profile event–the Olympics. While it remains to be seen whether the Olympics will be modified, postponed, or simply cancelled, a very special pre-opening Olympic event has already been torched–the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony.
Ever wonder where the flame comes from that is carried into the stadium for the opening ceremony of each Olympics? Well, it comes from ‘Greece–the country, that is, not the substance used to fry things. But the flame doesn’t simply go from Point A in Greece to Point B in the Olympic stadium in the host country for the Olympic Games. Oh, no. There is all sorts of pageantry and circuitous travel involved.
So where exactly is Point A? The ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, so Olympia, Greece is Point A for the Olympic flame. The familiar Olympic flame seen today is derived from the ancient practice of keeping a sacred fire burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics on the altar of the sanctuary of Hestia. The flame is a symbol of the continuity between the ancient and the modern Olympic games.
Just getting the fire started is an event unto itself. No one merely flicks a Bic and–voila, a flame is born. No, there’s quite the to do in starting the Olympic flame. It involves an elaborate ceremony with the sun, a mirror, a temple, and eleven Vestal Virgins. I kid you not. The flame is lit by the reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror in front of the Temple of Hera. The women lighting the flame represent the Vestal Virgins of Rome–priestesses of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth (fire place) and home–whose main tasks were to keep the fire lit and to remain virgins.
Sadly, as announced on March 9th, the coronavirus has torched the Olympic flame lighting ceremony set for today, March 12th. The usual thousands of spectators gawking at Vestal Virgins and a fire ignited by sunlight have been banned due to health concerns. This will be the first time since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that the ceremony will be held without an audience. Only 100 super special invited and accredited guests will be present to witness the Olympic flame burst forth.
The High Priestess of the Vestal Virgins uses the fire started in the parabolic mirror to light the Olympic torch. Research has not yet confirmed if the initial torchbearer says, “Come on baby light my fire” to the High Priestess at this point. Torch bearers are selectively chosen and must be at least 14 years of age and able to carry the Olympic torch at least 437 yards (400 meters).
Once the Olympic flame is lit, the Olympic torch is off and running–literally. The lighted torch embarks on a scenic seven day relay around Greece. The prefecture of Ilia, where Olympia is located, is one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus. Anyone but me see an issue with having people run about in a contagious area and then throughout the rest of the country spreading not only Olympic good will but possibly coronavirus as well?
A handover ceremony is scheduled for March 19th. The torch will thereafter be flown from Greece to Japan, site of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The plane bearing the Olympic flame will land in Miyagi in the northern part of the county at a Japan Air Self-Defense base. Due to coronavirus concerns, organizers are downsizing the arrival ceremony.
A torch which originated in a coronavirus infested Greek prefecture and taken throughout Greece is loaded onto a plane which will transfer the torch (and accompanying germs) to a different continent. Hmm. Good plan? Perhaps if the Japanese base is doing it self-defense job, the plane bearing the torch and presumably a torch bearer possibly contaminated by coronavirus in Greece won’t be allowed to land.
Another relay procedure in Japan precedes the arrival of the Olympic flame at its final destination , the Olympic stadium in the host city of Tokyo. This relay will pass through all 47 prefectures of Japan and by World Heritage sites such as Mount Fuji over the course of 121 days. The four-month torch relay around Japan begins on March 26th in Fukushima prefecture which is about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo. The relay will end on July 24th at the new $1.43 billion national stadium in Tokyo. Hoping the Olympics won’t be cancelled resulting in Japan having built the stadium, but no one came.
The modern torch relay ceremony is not an ancient practice. The Germans introduced it for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Whether ancient or not, having a torch runner enter a packed Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony to bring the flame which will ignite the Olympic cauldron is quite dramatic.
Regardless of how dramatic the igniting of the Olympic flame, the torch relay, or the lighting of the Olympic cauldron is, none of these events can compare with the real drama of the 2020 Olympics–the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Olympic organizers have repeatedly stated the Olympics will open as scheduled with the Paralympics following on August 25th. It is hard to imagine more massive crowds than those which would gather to witness Olympic events. How smart or wise is it at this point to offer events where thousands of people from all over the world will gather?
I know I’ll be safe watching Olympic competitions on TV from the comfort of my home, but how safe will the athletes, their families, the officials, and the spectators be at the actual events? Is the chance of winning or bestowing a gold medal worth more than someone’s life or health? I’m sorry, but it may come down to the Olympic flame being ignited but the Olympic games ultimately being torched.
Were you aware of the history behind the Olympic flame? The story of how it is lit? If you won an all-expenses paid trip to the 2020 Summer Olympics, would you go? How wise is it to proceed with such a massive event with a coronavirus pandemic ongoing?