Stefania Belmondo, two-time Olympic Champion and as a winner of a total of ten Olympic medals, the most successful Italian cross-country skier of all times, had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the XX Olympic Winter Games – Torino 2006 last night. Ms Belmondo also became the first representative of the FIS Nordic disciplines (Cross-Country Skiing, Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined) to have this esteemed privilege.
At the Olympic Winter Games, the Olympic flame was lit for the first time in the VI Olympic Winter Games in Oslo in 1952. In the 14 Olympic Winter Games that have celebrated the Olympic flame, only two representatives of FIS disciplines have had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron. This happened both times in Innsbruck, Austria, where in 1964 Joseph Rieder (three-time FIS Alpine World Ski Championship medalist) and in 1976, when Christl Haas (World Champion in downhill and Olympic Champion in Innsbruck in 1964) lit the Olympic Flame.
The tradition of the Olympic flame dates to ancient Olympic Games. A flame was lit for each Olympics, every four years, and burned throughout the games. The flame symbolized the death and rebirth of Greek heroes as the ancient Greeks considered fire to be a divine element. In the context of the modern Games, the Olympic flame is a manifestation of the positive values that Man has always associated with fire. The Olympic flame may only be lit using the sun’s rays before being passed to the first torch bearer. There was no torch relay in the ancient Olympics. The first torch relay occurred at the 1936 games in Berlin, Germany.