During the torch relays that kick off each Olympics, the flame is normally transferred from runner to runner like this:
But for the 1992 Summer Olympics, host city Barcelona added a twist. The torch relay was concluded in spectacular fashion: Rather than the final runner stepping up to the cauldron to light it, the flame was instead transferred by torch to an arrow nocked by archer Antonio Rebollo. Rebollo then fired it high into the air, perfectly arching it right into the cauldron, which then lit amidst thunderous applause. If you've not seen this moment, here it is:
Sadly, now that I'm not watching it on a tiny tube TV from across the room, I can see it was cooked. If you go frame-by-frame you can see the cauldron ignite before the arrow reaches it, and the flame doesn't originate from where the arrow lands.
However, Rebollo certainly hit the target. Had he visibly missed, it would have been spectacularly embarrassing (imagine if he shanked it into the crowd!). I was in awe that the organizers chose such a risky flame-transferring method when the entire world was watching.
Today the 2022 Olympic torch relay begins, and host Beijing has also opted for an unusual flame transfer method—not for the final cauldron lighting, but for the runner-to-runner exchanges. Torch designer Li Jianye has shaped the tip of the torch in a spiral, which itself resembles a flame:
On the graphic explaining the design of the torch, take a look at the lower right corner:
As the Olympics website explains, "A unique feature of the torch will be on display during the Olympic Torch Relay, as torchbearers will be able to exchange the flame by interlocking the two torches via the 'ribbon' construction, symbolizing Beijing 2022's vision to 'promote mutual understanding and respect between different cultures'."
That actually looks like a rather clunky procedure to coordinate, particularly after a long jog. To achieve the "handshake" both runners have to have the torches both aligned and properly rotated.
UX aside, I'm sure Li meant well by introducing the symbol of a handshake, but the tensions of our times are overshadowing the symbolism. The U.S and Britain have refused to send delegates over human rights concerns, athletes traveling to Beijing have been advised to use burner phones rather than bring their hackable smartphones, NBC isn't sending announcers due to COVID concerns, the NHL isn't sending players, et cetera.
The torch, then, is a perfect fit for our times: The designer meant well, but no one seems to have noticed, and it hasn't had any effect on events.
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