The tradition of carrying the Olympic flame from Olympia, Greece, the birthplace of the Ancient Olympic Games, to the host city of the modern Olympic Games via a torch relay was first introduced in 1936, ahead of the 1936 Summer Olympics. Since then, famous athletes (active or retired) with significant sporting achievements while representing the host country, promising young athletes, or other individuals with symbolic significance, have been selected as the last runners in the Olympic torch relay and consequently have the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony.
The first well-known athlete to light the cauldron was nine-time Olympic champion Paavo Nurmi at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Other famous final torch bearers include French football star Michel Platini (1992), heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (1996), Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman (2000), the Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky (2010), the marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima (2016) and the South Korean figure skating champion Yuna Kim (2018).
On other occasions, the people who lit the cauldron were not famous but nevertheless symbolized the Olympic ideals. Japanese runner Yoshinori Sakai was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the day the city was destroyed by an atomic bomb. He symbolized the rebirth of Japan after the Second World War when he lit the Olympic cauldron of the 1964 Summer Olympics. At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, two teenagers--representing the French- and the English-speaking parts of the country--symbolized the unity of Canada. Norway's Crown Prince Haakon lit the cauldron of the 1994 Winter Olympics, in honor of his father and grandfather, both Olympians. For the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, seven aspiring young athletes--each nominated by a former British Olympic champion--had the honor of lighting the cauldron.
|Berlin||Fritz Schilgen||Track and field||Schilgen was not a competitor at the Olympics, but was chosen for his graceful running style.|||
|1948 Summer||London||John Mark||Track and field||Little-known former medical student from Cambridge University.|||
|1952 Winter||Oslo||Eigil Nansen||Non-athlete||Grandson of polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen. He is the first non-athlete to light the flame.|||
|1952 Summer||Helsinki||Paavo Nurmi||Track and field||Nurmi was a winner of nine Olympic gold medals in the 1920s; Kolehmainen won four Olympic gold medals. Nurmi lit a cauldron on field level before handing the torch to four football players who relayed the torch to the top of the tower. Kolehmainen then lit the final, higher-placed cauldron.|||
|1956 Winter||Cortina d'Ampezzo||Guido Caroli||Speed skating||Participant in the 1948, 1952, and 1956 Winter Olympics. Skating with the torch, he tripped over a television cable but kept the flame burning.|||
|1956 Summer||Melbourne||Ron Clarke (Melbourne)||Track and field||Clarke would later win an Olympic bronze medal in 1964; Wikne participated in the 1964 Olympics. After Wikne lit the brazier on the infield, the flame was passed on to Karin Lindberg and Henry Ericksson, who separately ran up the two towers of the Stockholm Olympic Stadium.|||
|Hans Wikne (Stockholm)||Equestrianism|
|1960 Winter||Squaw Valley||Ken Henry||Speed skating||Olympic champion in 500m speed skating at the 1952 Winter Olympics.|||
|1960 Summer||Rome||Giancarlo Peris||Track and field||Track athlete of Greek descent. The Italian National Olympic Committee decided that the last torchbearer of the Olympics would be the winner of a junior cross country running race. Peris won and was chosen to be the last torchbearer.|||
|1964 Winter||Innsbruck||Josef Rieder||Alpine skiing||Participant in the 1956 Winter Olympics.|||
|1964 Summer||Tokyo||Yoshinori Sakai||Track and field||Sakai was born on the same day the atom bomb exploded over his native Hiroshima. He never participated in the Olympics.|||
|1968 Winter||Grenoble||Alain Calmat||Figure skating||Winner of the silver medal in the 1964 Winter Olympics.|||
|1968 Summer||Mexico City||Enriqueta Basilio||Track and field||Sprinter who participated in these Olympics; the first woman to light the main Olympic cauldron.|||
|1972 Winter||Sapporo||Hideki Takada||Non-athlete||A volleyball enthusiast who knew nothing of winter sports.|||
|1972 Summer||Munich||Günther Zahn||Track and field||Middle distance runner. Winner of the West German junior athletics championships.|||
|1976 Winter||Innsbruck||Christl Haas||Alpine skiing||Haas won gold on downhill in 1964 Winter Olympics; Feistmantl won luge doubles in the same Games.|||
|1976 Summer||Montreal||Sandra Henderson||Gymnastics||Two teenagers representing English and French Canadian. Neither of them participated in any Olympics.|||
|Stéphane Préfontaine||Track and field|
|1980 Winter||Lake Placid||Charles Gugino||Non-athlete||A doctor from Arizona who had been elected from all 52 bearers to run the final leg.|||
|1980 Summer||Moscow||Sergei Belov||Basketball||Member of the Soviet basketball team, gold medalist at the 1972 Summer Olympics.|||
|1984 Winter||Sarajevo||Sanda Dubrav?i?||Figure skating||Participant in the 1980 and 1984 Winter Olympics.|||
|1984 Summer||Los Angeles||Rafer Johnson||Track and field||Decathlon gold medalist at the 1960 Summer Olympics.|||
|1988 Winter||Calgary||Robyn Perry||Figure skating||A 12-year-old schoolgirl and aspiring figure skater.|||
|1988 Summer||Seoul||Chung Sun-man||Non-athlete||Chung Sun-man was a schoolteacher. Sohn was a young Korean dancer. Kim Won-tak was a young track athlete who took part in that Games' marathon.|||
|Kim Won-tak||Track and field|
|1992 Winter||Albertville||Michel Platini||Association football||Platini took part with the French football team in the 1976 Summer Olympics. Grange was a future alpine skier (and older brother of future multiple-time alpine skiing Slalom world champion Jean-Baptiste Grange). Aged nine at the time, Grange became the youngest final lighter in history.|||
|François-Cyrille Grange||Alpine skiing|
|1992 Summer||Barcelona||Antonio Rebollo||Archery||Paralympian who competed in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Summer Paralympics, winning two silvers and a bronze. The only Paralympian ever to light the Olympic cauldron, Rebollo shot a flaming arrow over an open natural gas cauldron to ignite it.|||
|1994 Winter||Lillehammer||Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway||Non-athlete||Heir apparent to the throne of Norway. Though he was not an Olympian, both his father and grandfather took part in the Olympics and he lit the cauldron on their behalf. His father declared the Games open.|||
|1996 Summer||Atlanta||Muhammad Ali||Boxing||1960 Summer Olympics light heavyweight boxing gold medalist.|||
|1998 Winter||Nagano||Midori Ito||Figure skating||1992 Winter Olympic silver medalist.|||
|2000 Summer||Sydney||Cathy Freeman||Track and field||Olympic silver medalist in 1996 and would later won Olympic gold in these Olympics, both in the 400 m. She is the only person ever to light a cauldron and win a gold medal in the same Games.|||
|2002 Winter||Salt Lake City||The 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team||Ice hockey||Famous for the "Miracle on Ice"; an upset of the Soviet hockey team en route to the gold medal.|||
|2004 Summer||Athens||Nikolaos Kaklamanakis||Sailing||Winner of Olympic gold in 1996 and would win a silver in these Olympics.|||
|2006 Winter||Turin||Stefania Belmondo||Cross-country skiing||Winner of ten Olympic medals, two of them gold. One of Italy's most decorated Olympians.|||
|2008 Summer||Beijing||Li Ning||Artistic gymnastics||Winner of six Olympic medals, including three gold in 1984. He was China's most successful athlete at their first Olympic appearance since 1952.|||
|2010 Winter||Vancouver||Steve Nash (indoor cauldron)||Basketball||Le May Doan was a winner of two gold medals in the 500 m in 1998 and 2002 and a bronze in the 1000 m in 1998. Nash is a two-time NBA MVP with the Phoenix Suns and a former member of the Canadian Olympic Basketball team, playing in 2000 Summer Olympics. Greene won gold in the giant slalom and silver in the slalom in 1968 Winter Olympics. Gretzky was a member of the Canadian ice hockey team and won four Stanley Cup titles as captain of the Edmonton Oilers (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988). He was the Executive Director of the Canadian men's hockey team in 2002, who won gold at that Games.
During the opening ceremony, Nash, Greene and Gretzky lit a cauldron inside the BC Place indoor stadium. Gretzky then lit a second, outdoor cauldron near the Vancouver Convention Centre. Only the outdoor cauldron remained lit throughout the Games.
Le May Doan was supposed to participate in the lighting of the indoor cauldron, but was left out when one of the four arms failed to raise due to mechanical problems. This was corrected at the beginning of the closing ceremony, when a joke was made about the mechanical error, and she was able to light the newly emerged fourth arm and relight the indoor cauldron to begin the closing ceremony.
|Nancy Greene (indoor cauldron)||Alpine skiing|
|Wayne Gretzky (indoor & outdoor cauldrons)||Ice hockey|
|Catriona Le May Doan (closing ceremony)||Speed skating|
|2012 Summer||London||Desiree Henry||Track and field||The cauldron was lit by seven teenagers, each nominated by a veteran British Olympian: Airlie was nominated by Shirley Robertson, Duckitt by Duncan Goodhew, Henry by Daley Thompson, Kirk by Dame Mary Peters, MacRitchie by Sir Steve Redgrave, Reynolds by Lynn Davies and Tracey by Dame Kelly Holmes. Austin Playfoot later relit the cauldron in its new spot in the Olympic Stadium. Duckitt was the only non-athlete among them.
Henry would later go on to win an Olympic bronze medal in the 4 × 100 m in 2016.
|Jordan Duckitt||Non-athlete (Young Ambassadors Group)|
|2014 Winter||Sochi||Irina Rodnina||Figure skating||Rodnina won three successive Olympic gold medals in figure skating. Tretiak also won three golds (and four medals overall), in ice hockey.|||
|Vladislav Tretiak||Ice hockey|
|2016 Summer||Rio de Janeiro||Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima
|Athletics||Winner of the bronze medal in the marathon of the 2004 Summer Olympics. De Lima was the first Latin American awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal after he was deliberately interrupted during that event.|||
|A second, outdoor cauldron was lit in front of Candelaria Church by 14-year-old, who was part of a sports project in Rio de Janeiro.|
|2018 Winter||Pyeongchang||Yuna Kim||Figure skating||Winner of Olympic gold in the ladies' singles in 2010 and silver in 2014.|||
|Singapore||Darren Choy||Sailing||A Singaporean sailor who participated in the Games.|
|2012 Winter Youth||Innsbruck||Egon Zimmermann||Alpine skiing||Both Zimmerman and Klammer won the gold in the downhill event in 1964 and 1976 respectively, both years when Austria previously hosted the Winter Olympics.|
|2014 Summer Youth||Nanjing||Chen Ruolin||Diving||Winner of back-to-back gold medals in diving in 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, in the 10 m and the 10 m synchronized. She would retain the latter's gold medal in 2016 Summer Olympics.|
|2016 Winter Youth||Lillehammer||Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway||Non-athlete||Elder child of Crown Prince Haakon, who previously lit the cauldron in the 1994 Winter Olympic Olympics. Her grandfather declared the Games open.|||
|2018 Summer Youth||Buenos Aires||Santiago Lange and Paula Pareto||Sailing and judo||As Buenos Aires 2018 was the first edition of an Olympic competition with gender equality, the lighting of the cauldron was symbolically carried out by a woman and a man. Pareto won bronze at Beijing 2008 and gold at Rio 2016; Lange, won bronze at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and was Olympic champion at Rio 2016.|||
|2020 Winter Youth||Lausanne||Gina Zehnder||Figure skating||Youngest athlete of the Swiss delegation competing in the Games.|