It has become a symbol of the Olympics: a runner carrying a flaming torch on the final leg of a journey that began in Greece, then dramatically lighting a cauldron to symbolize the beginning of the most heralded event of international sports.
The torch relay has been dressed up in the pageantry of ancient Greek mythology. But the event has a darker origin.
Historians believe the ancient Greeks used a fire ritual in their games — but no torch relay. That idea is actually the legacy of the Nazis, who conceived the event for the 1936 Berlin Olympics to glorify Adolf Hitler's regime.
Credit for the idea goes to Carl Diem, chief organizer of the 1936 Games. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels seized on the idea to link the Nazis to the glory of ancient Greece. All the resources of the Nazi state were organized to make it happen.
Runners were chosen so their physical appearance matched the Nazi idea of the "Aryan Master Race." Radio broadcasts along the route from Greece to Berlin fueled public enthusiasm.
At the next Summer Games in 1948, British organizers chose to continue the relay despite its Nazi origins, advertising the event as a "relay of peace." The first runner symbolically removed his army uniform before grabbing the torch.