Number of torchbearers in the lead up to the Summer Olympics 1936-2016

During the ancient Olympic games, the Olympic flame was kept burning throughout the tournament, as fire was regarded as a divine element in ancient Greek culture. A mirror was used to light the flame from the sun's rays (in order to ensure it's purity) and sacred fires were lit at the temples of Hestia, Zeus and Hera. Today, the Olympic flame continues to be lit at the temple of Hera in the town of Olympia, and the tradition of using mirrors and sunlight has been preserved; this ceremony is held to emphasize the link between the modern Olympic games and it's ancient roots.

Modern use of the flame

Contemporary use of the Olympic flame was first incorporated in the modern games in Amsterdam 1928, while the relay has been an Olympic tradition since the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. Over the past eight decades, the Olympic relay has become one of the most distinguished traditions before every Olympics, which sees thousands of torchbearers carry the flame from Greece to the host city of the games. The journey is used to spread the Olympics' message of international peace and unity. The lighting of the cauldron is the centerpiece of the opening ceremony. Those torchbearers who light the flame are often chosen due to their athletic abilities or cultural significance, with notable Olympians such as Muhammad Ali, Cathy Freeman and Paavo Numi having performed this function in their home nations.

Interesting journeys

The relay with the highest number of flame carriers was in 1964, when the Olympic flame crossed fourteen countries on it's way to Japan, where it was then carried throughout the country in teams of up to 23 people per kilometer (one torchbearer, two reserve runners and twenty additional runners). In the history of the relay, the torch has made many remarkable journeys, including three trips into space in 1996, 2000 and 2014, once to the summit of Mount Everest in 2008, and once to the Great Barrier Reef in 2000. An international relay was held in 2004, where the torch passed through all previous host cities of the modern Olympics before making its way back to Greece. In it's history, the Olympic flame has been carried on foot, horseback, by boat, gondola, surfboard, in the air and by camel, although the most unique transfer came in 1976, when a satellite was used to transmit the flame from Athens to Ottawa, where it was then relayed to Montreal. The 2020 Summer Olympics relay will begin in Olympia, Greece on March 12, and the cauldron will be lit at the opening ceremony on July 24.

Total number of people who were torchbearers of the Olympic Flame before each Summer Olympics from 1936 to 2016

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Release date




Survey time period

1936 to 2016

Supplementary notes

*Approximate data, more data for Melbourne available here,
**USA only

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