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There the maiden in the lead touched the torch to an oil-filled brazier, another gift from the Germans. This was the beginning of an epic relay run in which more than three thousand torchbearers transported the flame across seven countries to its final destination in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
Like all aspects of the games, the torch relay had been scripted long in advance by the German organizers, who planned it as meticulously as their predecessors had any Prussian military campaign. In two members of the German Organizing Committee GOC reconnoitered the prospective route by car, an arduous undertaking given the lack of paved roads in some sections and the necessity of crossing high mountain passes.
On the basis of this advance reconnaissance, the planners decided that each relay runner should cover about one kilometer, taking an average of five minutes but no more than fifteen.
The total distance of 3, kilometers was to be covered in twelve days. Allowing for breaks for speeches and ceremonies, the flame was scheduled to arrive at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on August 1 at exactly 4: There had been no such torch relays in the ancient games or, for that matter, in any of the ten official modern Summer Olympics preceding the Berlin games.
The torch relay was but one of many ways in which the Nazi games helped define the modern Olympic experience as we know it today. In contrast to the essentially innocuous Olympic torch relay spectacles that have become familiar to us in recent years, however, the original German relay did more than simply promote interest in the upcoming games: It carried some very heavy ideological baggage.
Initially proposed by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, and orchestrated primarily by Carl Diem, the indefatigable secretary-general of the GOC, the relay turned into an advertisement for the new Germany across southeastern and central Europe, a region coveted by Nazi proponents of Lebensraum living space —and eventually overrun by the Wehrmacht.
The seemingly innocuous torch trek from Olympia to Berlin prefigured the naked aggression to come. At the same time, as if to provide an illustrious pedigree for the new Germanic empire envisaged by Hitler, the relay quite overtly and ostentatiously posited a symbolic bridge between modern Germany and classical Greece.
He saw the torch relay as a reawakening of the mythic cult surrounding Prometheus, whose theft of fire from the gods for the betterment of mortals had been honored in antiquity by torchlight parades.
But Diem got a little confused in his imagery.
The first stages of the torch relay took the Olympic flame across the rugged terrain of the northern Peloponnesus to Corinth. The Greek authorities had intended to build a new highway from Olympia to the mountain town of Tripolis, but the project was not completed in time for the relay, and automobiles accompanying the runners had great difficulty negotiating the serpentine cart road over the passes.
Riefenstahl herself showed up to direct the filming of the torch-lighting spectacle and the first stage of the relay. She was distressed that the lighting site, jammed as it was with cars and dignitaries in suits, did not at all fit the image she had in mind of ancient Olympia.
Nor, in her view, did the torchbearers look like ancient athletes. With the exception of the first lad, who wore nothing but close-fitting shorts, the Greek runners sweated over the hills in full folkloric costume:accounting, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, and strategy.
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