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The 3,100-mile Olympic torch relay is underway. Here's what to know about the symbolic tradition.

Olympics flame lit ahead of Paris games
Paris Olympics flame lit as athletes prepare for Summer Games 03:50

The Olympic flame has been lit in Olympia, Greece, kicking off the torch relay for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Ahead of each Summer Olympics, the torch is lit in the ancient site where the games were founded, connecting the event back to its roots.

The torch is carried to the host city by runners and other modes of transportation. This year, the torch will be carried to Athens and then taken on a three-masted sailboat across the Mediterranean Sea to Marseille, France. It will travel around France and its islands with athletes until it lands in Paris on July 26 for the opening ceremony of the games.

Boats will carry the torch to islands like Martinique and French Polynesia. A complete list of stops is found on the Olympics website and the relay will be live-streamed. It will take 68 days to complete the 3,100-mile relay.

Lighting Ceremony Of The Olympic Flame
Greek actress Mary Mina, playing the role of the High Priestess, holds the torch during the flame lighting ceremony for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics at the Ancient Olympia archeological site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece on April 16, 2024 in Olympia, Greece. MILOS BICANSKI / Getty Images

selection process to choose the whopping 10,000 athletes who will carry the flame began in June 2023. 

The torch never goes out during the relay. A new torch is designed for each Olympics and it is specially made to withstand elements. The flame is typically fueled by gas and is capable of burning longer than the relay will take. It rests in a special cauldron overnight.

A special ceremony was held in Olympia on Tuesday, with an actress lighting the flame at the temple of the Greek goddess Hera.

The Olympic flame is lit in Olympia
The first torchbearer, 2020 Olympic rowing champion Stefanos Ntouskos, receives the flame from Greek actress Mary Mina, who plays the high priestess, during the lighting ceremony for Paris 2024 on the site of Ancient Olympia.  Socrates Baltagiannis/picture alliance via Getty Images

The ancient Olympic games were held in Olympia from 776 BC through 393 AD and the first modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896.

But the symbolic torch wasn't used until the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics and the inaugural relay took place in 1936 ahead of the Berlin Olympics.

The relay has been held for every Summer Olympics since and is even in the Olympic rule book, which states: "The Olympic flame is the flame which is kindled in Olympia under the authority of the IOC."  

Olympic swimmer Florent Manaudou was chosen as a leader for one of the relays.

"It's incredible to be captain. When you are a kid discovering the Games, you see the sporting part but also the Olympic torch, which is highly symbolic," Manaudou said. "I am very happy to showcase all the amazing landscapes we have in France."

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