National Geographic Daily News
A photo of the Olympics in Sydney.

Lighting the cauldron with the torch—here in Sydney, Australia, in 2000—signals the games have begun.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SAGET, GETTY

Cathy Newman

National Geographic

Published February 7, 2014

We asked two experts—Anthony Bijkerk, secretary-general of the International Society of Olympic Historians, and Donald Rooney, director of exhibitions at the Atlanta History Center, which includes the Centennial Olympic Games Museum—to name their favorite Olympic torches.

Here is a list based on their choices:

A photo of the Berlin torch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IOC OLYMPIC MUSEUM, GETTY

1. Berlin, 1936. "It speaks to pomp and circumstance and propaganda and is the first torch relay of the Olympic movement," Rooney says. "The stylized eagle holding the Olympic rings in its sharp talons is a frightening harbinger to what would come from Berlin in other ways."

A photo of the Helsinki torch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IOC OLYMPIC MUSEUM

2. Helsinki, 1952. "Nothing special about the design," Bijkerk comments. "But it's rare and expensive."

A photo of the Sydney torch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK METCALFE, GETTY

3. Sydney, 2000. Both men liked this one. "Perhaps the most elegant design. Based on the Sydney Opera House, and the first torch to burn under water," says Bijkerk.

A photo of the Moscow torch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IOC OLYMPIC MUSEUM

4. Moscow, 1980. Rooney likes this one because of the Cyrillic inscription, "but more so, because of the association with the U.S. boycott of the games."

A photo of the Lillehammer torch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IOC OLYMPIC MUSEUM

5. Lillehammer, 1994. "A special design, 154 centimeters high, about as tall as a big man. Also because the last runner sailed down the ramp of a ski jump holding it," Bijkerk says.

A photo of the Seoul torch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IOC OLYMPIC MUSEUM

6. Seoul, 1988. "The most beautiful torch in our collection," says Rooney. "The bowl is brass, engraved with two dragons symbolizing harmony between east and west."

3 comments
Eugene Whocares
Eugene Whocares

Mmkay, no Sochi torch in the list? Say what you want, but this newest torch is the most elegant design out of the bunch, and I'm not going to go into the stories, the insane amount of craftsmanship, etc etc. (the ugly 1951 torch is on the list just because it's rare!)

If you're going to do something like this then at least phrase the objective in such a way to disqualify the obvious winner, as it is this article is just a cheap politrickal stunt, nothing more. I understand that these are opinions, and opinions are valid, when they're reasoned in a sensible manner. Here it's clear that Sochi torch should be on the list, it makes one question the validity of the whole article.


How to Feed Our Growing Planet

  • Feed the World

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

The Innovators Project

  • Teen Wonder: Taylor Wilson

    Teen Wonder: Taylor Wilson

    After achieving nuclear fusion at age 14, Taylor, now 19, is working with subatomic particles for solutions to nuclear terrorism and cancer.

See more innovators »

Phenomena

See more posts »

Latest News Video

  • How a T. Rex Packs for a Road Trip

    How a T. Rex Packs for a Road Trip

    The nation's most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen is taking a 2,000-mile road trip from Montana to its new home in Washington, D.C.

See more videos »

See Us on Google Glass

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »