Commonly mistaken as an ancient Greek tradition, the Olympics torch relay was actually a Nazi idea.
The Olympic flame first became a tradition of the Modem Olympic Games when an Olympic flame was lit and remained burning at the entrance to the Olympic Stadium throughout the 1928 Amsterdam Games. The lighting of the flame captured the public's imagination and has remained a traditional ceremony for the Opening Ceremony of the Games.
Conceived by Dr. Carl Diem of Germany, the modern Torch Relay was inspired by ancient Greek drawings and the writings of Plutarch. Diem created the first relay from Olympia to Berlin as part of the Opening Ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games.
On July 20, 1936, a young Greek, Konstantin Kondylis, became the first runner in the history of the modem Olympic Torch Relay. He left Olympia, torch in hand, launching a tradition that has become an integral component of each Olympic Games.
Technically, the Torch Relay does not represent the passing of a torch, but celebrates the passing of the sacred flame from one torch to the next. The Olympic flame symbolizes the light of spirit, knowledge and life. By passing the flame from one person to another in stages, the Torch Relay expresses the handing down of this symbolic fire from generation to generation.
The 1936 Berlin Games began with torchbearers running the flame into the Olympic Stadium on August 1. The relay took 12 days, beginning with the flame ceremony in Olympia and passing through seven countries taking part in the Games—Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany, and their capitals. The 3,075-kilometer relay was completed solely by runners.
The first torchbearer, Greece's Konstantin Kondylis, was also the first athlete of the Modem Olympic Games to bear the symbolic flame. Fritz Schilgen, a 1931 Student World Champion in the 1500 meter event, was chosen to run the flame into the Berlin stadium because of his attractive running style.