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Company that made 1964 Olympic torch aims to create 2020 flame

Factory foreman Masayuki Sato holds the torch used for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, left, and one being developed for the 2020 Olympics, in Nishigo, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 1, 2015. (Mainichi)

FUKUSHIMA -- Nippon Koki Co., an explosives maker that created the Olympic torch used for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is aiming to be chosen once again to create the torch for the 2020 Summer Games.

    For the 1964 Olympics, the Tokyo-based company designed a torch with a chemical flame that continued burning in water or under the oxygen-free atmosphere, developed to meet the Olympic organizing committee's request for a torch that would "absolutely not go out, even in the rain." The around 7,000 torches manufactured and delivered by the company made it through the Olympic Torch relay without burning out, and were employed again for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics and the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.

    This time the company is aiming to create a torch that is smokeless. The Nippon Koki's chemical flame torches create a lot of smoke compared to gas-fired ones. And while some say the torches look good, there are now more indoor venues at the Olympics, and company employees worried that, indoors, the smoke would obscure the torch runner.

    The company began work on the new torch in April this year, aiming for a smokeless device that can be used at any venue. They have succeeded in making a torch that emits hardly any smoke and has a clearly visible flame, but the company says that they are only around 40 percent of the way towards creating a flame that can't be put out.

    The company's factory is in the village of Nishigo, Fukushima Prefecture. The Great East Japan Earthquake caused the factory to list, and the factory road collapsed. Production stopped for one month, and many of the 400 employees there sacrificed their time off to secure fuel for the heavy machinery needed to repair the building.

    In this file photo, a runner carries the 1964 Olympic Torch. (Mainichi)

    Factory foreman Masayuki Sato, 59, says, "When the earthquake disaster struck, the employees united to fix things," adding, "We want to finish the new torch in two years and will work to be chosen for the 2020 Olympics."

    According to Nippon Koki Co. and other sources, competitors for the torch design include an association of Kanagawa Prefecture businesses and a university research organ. The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games will decide which torch is used.

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