The 2016 Olympic Games officially kick off in Rio de Janeiro on Friday with the opening ceremony, but some of the action has been going on for months. On April 21, the Olympic Torch Relay began in Olympia, Greece, then continued on across South America. So, who is carrying the Olympic torch in Rio's opening ceremony? It's passed through a whole lot of hands with about 12,000 people in all serving as torchbearers to bring the flame to the opening ceremony. But only one person will play the role of carrying the torch into the stadium on Friday. And that person will be Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
His participation in the opening ceremony won't be a first for Ban, the South Korean official who has served in the position since 2007. He also carried the torch for the 2012 Games in London, and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Along with playing the key role of torchbearer during the opening ceremony, Ban will also visit the Olympic Village and meet with the Refugee Olympic Team, which is debuting this year. The organizers' choice of a high-ranking U.N. official to participate in the ceremony makes sense, given the Games' emphasis on international cooperation.
Many of the other torchbearers that have helped the torch arrive in Rio de Janeiro are celebrities, elite athletes, and former Olympians, although some are people who applied to carry the torch and were selected based on other cool stuff they've done, like being outstanding members of their communities. The first person to carry it was Eleftherios Petrounias, a world-champion gymnast from Greece. One very notable torchbearer was Ibrahim al-Hussein, a Syrian refugee who lost part of his leg in a bombing; he carried the torch through a refugee camp in Athens. In the days leading up to the Opening Ceremony, the torch is making its way across Rio, where it arrived on July 27 after traveling throughout the country. The torch relay began in Brasilia, the national capital, on May 3.
Interestingly, it's not the same torch that is passed between the 12,000 torchbearers; rather, it's the flame (apparently "Flame Relay" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "Torch Relay"). This year's flame was lit by Greek actress Katerina Lehou, who performed as a high priestess to Hera, a Greek goddess at whose temple the lighting took place.
Some of the most famous torchbearers in Olympics past include Muhammad Ali, who did so in 1996, Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart in 2012, and former California governor/Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010.
NBC Olympics reported that the flame has traveled 10,000 miles by air and 12,000 miles by land. The design of the torches used in 2016 is meant to capture Brazil's geography, with segments representing the sea, sky, and mountains of the country. When torchbearers pass the flame, the torches' segments separate and show the colors of the Brazilian flag beneath. In the event that the flame goes out — which doesn't happen often — it is re-lit by a backup lantern that was lit at the same ceremony as the original flame.
The games have yet to begin, but the Olympics are already under way with the Torch Relay. And 12,000 lucky individuals were honored with the task of transporting the flame, which Ban will pass off to the cauldron lighter at the Opening Ceremony. Be sure to tune into the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday to see the historic event take place.