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Which Olympic Torch Relay is the best? by Cathy Buchanan and James Lally

Categories : Our WorldSport

With today being the day of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in London and many of us here having watched the official torch relay and the less-official Real Relay run past our homes and workplaces in the last week the Figure-It-Out team started to wonder about the origin of the relay and whether it is possible to determine which one is “best”.

Depending how you count, the London torch relay is the 18th or 19th relay, the first being in Berlin in 1936 when the torch was run in 1km stretches from Olympia to Berlin, passing through 7 countries en-route.Since then, the torch has travelled by steamboat, ship, canoe, motorcycle, space-rocket, satellite, camel, horse, bicycle, motorcycle, train, swimming, Concorde, jet-fighter, Airbus, helicopter, wagon, coach, zip-line (and it’s sure that we must have missed some.)

Of the relays which were carried out entirely on foot from Greece to the host nation (Berlin 1936, London 1948 and Moscow 1980) the longest distance travelled was to Moscow (5000km). Does this endurance make Moscow the “best” relay? We think not, particularly since this year’s UK Real Relay smashed that total with nearly 12000km in 18km stretches.

So maybe the “best” relay is the one which travelled the furthest distance overall? This is easily the relay which carried the torch to Beijing, where the torch, travelling mainly by Airbus, visited all 5 continents for the second time in this relay history, even making it to the top of Mount Everest as it passed from hand to hand. Beijing would also take the prize if we measure by the number of torch-bearers who took part.

The relay to Athens in 2004 is also “best” in two significant categories, passing through the most countries on its journey and taking the most number of days to complete the relay from Olympia to the Olympic Stadium. They could, however, be considered to have cheated in the last category, being the only nation to put the torch on display for weeks in a pause between relay stages.

It’s tempting then, to say that either Beijing or Athens is “the best”.

Naturally, though we’d like to say that the UK official relay is the “best” and from the perspective of its unique selling point - travelling within an hour’s drive of 95% of the UK population - it is. Before the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a similar feat was attempted and, in a longer journey across Australia, the torch passed within an hour of 85% of the Australian population.

London 2012 also sports the longest torch design, with an extra-special focus on the number 8000 (800mm long, 8000mg in weight, 8000 holes in each torch carrier to represent the 8000 special individuals who contributed to the 8000 mile journey.)

In case you’re interested, the heaviest torch was carried by Atlanta runners in 1996, a whopping 1600g, twice the weight of this year’s London torch.

However, we thought perhaps we could compare the relay lengths to the number of medals won to see which was the most efficient in terms of miles required per medal.

Year

Olympic Location

miles per medal

Ranking

  1980 

Moscow

16

1

  1936 

Berlin

22

2

  1960 

Rome

32

3

  1976 

Montreal

44

4

  1984 

Los Angeles

54

5

  1948 

London

86

6

  1972 

Munich

86

6

  1956 

Melbourne

88

8

  1988 

Seoul

89

9

  1952 

Helsinki

134

10

By this measure, the “best” relay was in Moscow in 1980 where just 16 miles were run by torch-bearers per medal won by the host nation in their games. London 2012 falls just outside the top ten with 152 miles required for each medal based on last week’s Figure-It-Out medal predictions. In order to get into the top ten, they would need to get above Helsinki with at least 60 medals, which could happen. Go London!

 

Anyway, we hope you’ve enjoyed this whistlestop tour of torch relay history (We certainly enjoyed researching it). I’ll leave you to choose your measure of “best”.

Is it ...

Relay measure

Year

Olympic Location

Winning score

Longest on foot only relay

  1980 2012

Moscow London Real Relay

5,000km 12,000km

Longest overall relay

  2008

Beijing

137,000km

Most torchbearers

  2008

Beijing

21,800

Most countries visited

  2004

Athens

28

Most creative mode of transport

  1976

Montreal

Satellite/laser trip from Greece to Canada

Longest time taken on relay

  2004

Athens

142 days

Closest to largest proportion of home nation population

  2012

London

within 1 hour of 95% of population

Longest torch

  2012

London

80cm

Heaviest torch

  1996

Atlanta

1600g

Fewest miles per medal won

  1980

Moscow

16 miles/medal

or do you have a different preferred measure of best?

 

Please let us know on the Figure it Out blog.

About the author

James Lally
James Lally
James Lally has 10 years experience in analytical consulting across a range of projects in the public and private sector. James spent the first part of his career in an internal business consulting and strategy group at Network Rail, working as an adviser to the Board and Executive Directors and leading on high profile projects to restructure the business, support executive decision-making and drive significant performance improvement. James now works as a Managing Consultant in Capgemini Consulting’s Business Analytics team. James leads the team’s Value Management service offerings and is also focussed on clients within the Utilities sector.

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