The Olympic Torch Relay Was Publicity for the Third Reich
The most iconic moment from any Olympic games is the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame. The torch is carried from Olympia, Greece, to the games' host city, and the journey across nations has become a symbol of the world uniting toward a single goal. Oh, also, it was originally instituted by the Nazis to gain a little exposure.
To be fair, it beats pop-up ads.
The Publicity Stunt That Started It:
The tradition of the Olympic flame itself -- minus the runner carrying the torch cross-country -- dates back to the first Olympics in ancient Greece, where a fire burned throughout the games. Then the 1936 Berlin Olympics added a new twist to the torch ceremony. Carl Diem, the event's organizer, wanted to link the modern Olympics to the ancient games. Hitler's good friend Joseph Goebbels, aka the minister of Nazi propaganda, saw this as an excellent opportunity to promote the Aryan race to the world.
Nothing makes the race look good like tight shorts and pasty white legs.
The Nazis believed that ancient Greece was the forerunner of the Aryan race. So naturally, having one of their Nazi supermen carrying the flame from Olympia to the European countries where Germany wanted to increase its influence made perfect sense. And Goebbels spared no expense in making sure that every second of the relay was broadcast through radio and dramatic photographs taken for the benefit of their future subjects.
"Boy, those Nazis sure do know how to stand in huge blocks underneath giant flags."
So as you watch the Olympic torch wind its way to London this summer, just remember that the worldwide event uniting every country for the sake of sport was originally designed to show the world the superiority of a few white guys.