The Olympic Flame was used for the third time at these games, but this marked the first time it was brought to the Olympic Village by a torch relay, with the starting point in Olympia, Greece.
The modern convention of moving the Olympic Flame via a relay system from Greece to the Olympic venue began in 1936. Carl Diem devised the idea of the torch relay for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin that was organized by the Nazis under the guidance of Joseph Goebbels. Krupp armaments company produced the torches in wood and metal, inspired by an olive leaf. The Olympic Flame was lit by a concave mirror in Olympia, Greece and transported over 3,187 kilometres by 3,331 runners in twelve days and eleven nights from Greece to Berlin. Leni Riefenstahl later staged the torch relay for the 1938 film Olympia. The film was part of the Nazi propaganda machine’s attempt to add myth and mystique to Adolf Hitler’s regime. Hitler saw the link with the ancient Games as the perfect way to illustrate his belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich. There were minor protests in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia on the way, which were suppressed by the local security forces.
There have been protests against the Olympic flame relay due to its origins with the Nazis.
On June 30, 1936, the first torch-flame was kindled in Olympia, Greece, in the ruins of the Temple of Hera, by 15 robed “virgins,” using a concave mirror focusing the sun’s rays, all under the supervision of a “high priestess.” It was carried to the Acropolis in Athens for a special invocation, and then relayed along the 3,422-kilometer distance to the Olympic stadium in Berlin by an equal number of young Aryan-looking runners, each of whom took the flame a single kilometer.
On its way, the flame passed through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia; those countries, and Greece itself, would all be under Nazi domination within ten years.
In March 1945, as the Red Army was closing in on Berlin in the final weeks of the Second World War, Diem staged another famous event in the city’s Olympic stadium. Addressing a rally of thousands of teenage Hitler Youth, Diem exhorted them to defend the capital to the death, in the spirit of the ancient Spartans. Some two thousand of the young men assembled there did exactly that, sacrificing themselves before Berlin finally fell in May.