Saturday, 26 July 2014
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London 2012 design icons – the Olympic torch

The Olympic Torch has been the most visible of the London 2012 Olympic design icons in the run-up to the Games.

The Olympic Torch

Source: Locog

Since starting its journey around Britain on 19 May, the torch has rarely been out of the newspapers, and we’ve had a rare opportunity to see an Olympic design go through product testing in front of a national audience.

We already knew that Barber Osgerby’s torch – winner of the Design Museum’s Design of the Year – was a beautiful object, but now we’re getting to see whether or not it’s fit for purpose.

There have been a couple of blips – the flame went out on day three of the relay due to a ‘malfunctioning burner’ and was later extinguished during a rather ambitious attempt to boat it through the canoe slalom venue in Hertfordshire. In both cases back-up flames were on hand to relight the torch.

Schoolgirls from Leadenhall School, Salisbury, hold the Olympic Torch of Olympic gold medalist former sprinter Torchbearer 001 Michael Johnson at Salisbury Cathedral during Day 55 of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

Source: Locog

Schoolgirls from Leadenhall School, Salisbury, hold the Olympic Torch at Salisbury Cathedral during Day 55 of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay

Despite this, the torch – which is made from an aluminium alloy and weights in at just over 1kg - seems to have held up pretty well to the British ‘summer’. This is despite the fact that, unusually, you can see through the holes punched in the torch to the burner unit.

In fact, these holes are the key design element of the torch: 8000 of them to represent the 8000 torchbearers who will carry it around the country.

The Guardian has had a good stab at identifying all 8000 of these torchbearers. It says that although all 8000 are named on the Locog website, there are 500 ‘mystery torchbearers’ whose biographies aren’t included.

Olympic gold medalist former sprinter Torchbearer 001 Michael Johnson holds the Olympic Flame at Stonehenge at the beginning of Day 55 of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay

Source: Locog

Olympic gold medalist former sprinter Michael Johnson holds the Olympic Flame at Stonehenge at the beginning of Day 55 of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay

Interestingly, one of these mysterious torchbearers is WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, who carried the torch through Redbridge in east London.

And speculation still surrounds the identity of the final Olympic torchbearer – the person who will get to light the Thomas Heatherwick-designed Olympic cauldron when the Games begins on 27 July. Footballer David Beckham, controversially unselected for the Team GB Olympic football team, has ruled himself out, saying the honour should go to the Olympic athlete.

 David Beckham with the torch during the ceremony to mark the arrival of the Olympic flame, at RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall.

Source: Locog/Press Association Images

David Beckham with the torch during the ceremony to mark the arrival of the Olympic flame, at RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall

And this isn’t the only piece of mystery surrounding the torch’s final destination. While it had been assumed that the Olympic cauldron would be in the Populous-designed stadium, rumours are now circling that the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture, designed by Anish Kapoor, is set to act as a giant cauldron itself.

Although denied by ArcelorMittal chairman Lakshmi Mittal, the rumours, supported by aerial photos of the sulpture that appear to indicate a giant burner, persist.

Whatever its destination, and although the Olympic Torch’s work will have finished by 27 July, we hope this isn’t the last time we’ll see it.

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