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The 2020 Summer Olympics torch relay is finally underway. The Olympic flame, which was kindled in Olympia, Greece, on March 12, 2020, and transported to Japan on March 20, 2020, spent a year at the Olympic Museum in Tokyo after the Games were postponed due to the coronavirus. It began its 121-day journey from Fukushima to Tokyo's National Stadium — the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies — on March 25, 2021.
"Inspired by the Olympic values of peace and solidarity, the Olympic Torch Relay will carry Tokyo 2020’s message, 'hope lights our way,' across Japan and the world," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said. "It will also acknowledge the challenges faced by society since last year, highlighting the importance of unity and solidarity within humankind, showing that we can only become stronger - together."
Following a short opening ceremony, Japanese soccer player Iwashimizu Azusa, surrounded by other members of the winning 2011 World Cup team, proudly carried the torch out of the J-Village indoor soccer training center for the relay's first leg. The runners were greeted with enthusiastic applause from the small group of socially distanced, mask-wearing spectators, who had lined up along the streets to witness the historic occasion live.
“At first, I didn’t think much of it," 20-year-old Takumu Kimura told NBC News. “But when I actually saw it, it felt like: — yes, it’s the Olympics.”
In the coming months, 10,000 torchbearers— each chosen for their ability to overcome adversity — will take turns running the Olympic flame to the National Stadium for the July 23, 2021, opening ceremony. The carefully charted route will snake through all of the country's 47 prefectures to ensure that the torch passes within a short distance of a majority of Japan's residents.
The Olympic torch, which was inspired by the sacred fire kept ablaze throughout the ancient games, made its modern-era debut at the 1928 Summer Games in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The ritual was repeated at the 1932 Summer Games in Los Angeles, California. However, instead of placing the flame on a tower overlooking the stadium, as had been the case in Amsterdam, the lit torch was placed above the sporting venue's entrance.
In the months leading to the 1936 Games of the XI Olympiad in Berlin, Germany, the officials decided to up the ante by taking the flame lighting ceremony back to its roots in Olympia, Greece. To ensure the flame's purity, it was ignited by channeling the Sun's rays through a parabolic mirror — a ritual observed to this day.
The now-beloved Olympic torch relay was also introduced during these games by the organizing committee's Secretary-General, Carl Diem. He drew inspiration from the torch races of Ancient Greece. Over the years, the torch relay has become a way for the host country to showcase its natural beauty to the millions of people watching the Olympics worldwide and to attract more tourists.
Resources: jrailpass.com, nbc.com, insidethegames.biz, olympic.org