Always keen to anchor themselves to history, the Olympic movement reintroduced the flame in Amsterdam in 1928. It burned for the duration and has been an fixture at every Games since. The torch relay had no historical precedent whatever. It was a device invented by Nazi Germany for the 1936 Games.
The flame was relayed overland from Greece using torches made by the German armaments dealer Krupp. The first torch off the production line, according to German sports historian Arnd Krüger, was used to light a new furnace in one of the company's factories. Krupp was later convicted of war crimes, including using Jews as slave labour.
Despite this unsavoury beginning, the relay persists. The flame is due to arrive in the UK next week, travelling by plane in a specially constructed cradle.
Fire at sports meetings is so old that it's difficult to get one's head around. Romulus founded Rome some 50 years after the first Olympics in 776 BC. The Trojan horse brought Troy to its knees around 1184 BC.
But fire as the catalyst for sport was earlier still. Think Pharaoh's daughter finding Moses by the Nile (1400 BC) and you are still not even close. The Tailteann Games were first held in Ireland in 1829 BC, and are among the oldest events in Irish history for which authenticated records exist. They marked the funeral of Queen Tailte, or Tailtiu, the daughter of a Spanish king, and persisted until the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1168 AD.
So, not only were they held more than 1000 years before the launch of the ancient Olympics, they survived for longer than the ancient and modern Olympic eras combined.
They were founded on a living mortal not mythical Greek gods, so it seems the Irish role in the sporting culture of humanity has been distorted and marginalised by Olympism. Indeed, it's said Greek traders were at these first Irish games, which may explain the hijacking of the Irish lore. The Tailteann Games were held annually and began with the lighting of a huge fire.
A truce, later adopted by the Greek city states to allow safe passage to Olympic competitors and spectators, was proclaimed by decree of the High King of Ireland more than a millennium ahead of the first Olympics.
The inaugural edition of the Greek event had just one race, a sprint. The Tailteann Games, according to the Irish historian TH Nally, included a range of sports and events. In a 1922 publication Nally mentions athletics, gymnastic and equestrian contests, running, long jump, high jump, spear or pole jumping, spear-throwing, sword and shield contests, wrestling, boxing, swimming, horse- racing, chariot-racing, sling-shot and archery contests, and hurling and quoit competitions.
There were also musical, literary and story-telling contests, and competitions for goldsmiths, jewellers, weavers and blacksmiths. In all of that, the modern cultural Olympiad finds its roots.
The Olympic notion was well rooted long before it became the vision of Baron de Coubertin who revived the Games in Athens in 1896. In addition to the Irish influence, in 1612 the first Cotswold Olimpick Games were contested. They survived until 1642, were revived in the 1660s, and continued to be held intermittently until around 1850.
That year, the first Much Wenlock Olympian Games were staged in Shropshire. They continue to this day, and their founder, Dr William Penny Brookes is acknowledged by the IOC as a seminal influence. There were enough other UK events bearing the "Olympic" label (London, Llandudno, Birmingham) to make current legislation restricting use of the "O" word preposterous.
Olympian and Olympic references including discussion of or actual revival of, sports meetings can be found in the USA, Canada, Sweden, and Germany, not to mention Greece itself, predating the Athens revival.
Shakespeare had Olympics references in Henry VI (first performed in 1590) and in Troilus and Cressida (1601). In the former (Part 3, act 2) George, Duke of Clarence, speaks on the battlefield of promising the troops "such rewards as victors wear at the Olympian games". In the latter (act 4) Nestor mentions "Olympian Wrestling". And Milton, in Paradise Lost (1667), talks of "Olympian Games or Pythian fields".
It seems ironic that as Rangers battle to preserve their traditional identity, one of their great contributions to sporting culture in Scotland goes from strength to strength.
The first Diamond League athletics meeting of the season was last night in Doha. It's simply the modern incarnation of what Rangers started. More than a century ago (1903) at Ibrox, Alf Shrubb broke seven world records in one race (one hour, and setting records en route at six, seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11 miles). In his career he set more world bests than Coe, Ovett, and Cram combined.
The ground went on to welcome a Who's Who of the world's greatest athletes, Olympic champions and world record-breakers, watched by crowds in excess of 70,000.
Before the war they saw the likes of Sydney Wooderson and Jack Lovelock, world mile record holder and future Olympic 1500m champion respectively. This was the forerunner of grand prix athletics. The 1924 Paris Olympic 400 metres champion, Eric Liddell, won on the Ibrox cinders, and a crowd of 50,000 saw the American, Cornelius Warmerdam, win the pole vault, using a bamboo pole and landing in sand. He set several world records, and was first man over 15 feet (4.57 metres). His world best survived for 15 years, until the advent of aluminium poles. Last night in Doha, the women's winner, Anastasiya Savchenko, won with 4.57m.
Horace Ashenfelter, 90 next year and winner of Olympic steeplechase gold in 1952, also ran at Ibrox. He was an FBI agent at the time, but his best Ibrox memory was wearing a bearskin during the proceedings. "We had a lot of fun," he recalled in a Herald interview.