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News Navigator: Why has the Tokyo Olympic flame gone out multiple times during the relay?

An official staff member reignites the Olympic torch after its flame went out during the torch relay in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 25, 2021. (Pool photo)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the Olympic flame extinguishing multiple times during the torch relay.

    Question: Did the Tokyo Olympic torch flame go out during the relay?

    Answer: On the relay's first day on March 25 in Fukushima Prefecture, the flame went out twice; once was in the town of Tomioka, when a female torch bearer was carrying it. An official staff member quickly rekindled it using fire from a lantern.

    Q: Why did it go out?

    A: On the second day, a man from the village of Iitate carried a torch without a flame for a while; the organizing committee explained at the end of the same day: "We think it was caused by a gas cylinder on one end of the torch not being screwed in properly."

    Q: What do you mean by not being screwed in properly?

    A: According to the manual on how to ignite the torch, a special instrument that looks like a black stick, which measures about 20 centimeters long, is inserted up from the bottom of the torch and rotated about three times to release the gas. The ignition was reportedly unstable because the rotation on that part was insufficient. The torch is said to have been made with technology that won't let the flame extinguish even in a rainstorm as strong as one in a typhoon, so it was human error rather than a torch issue that led to it going out.

    Q: Have there been past cases of the flame going out?

    A: There were issues with torches at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games, which led to the flame extinguishing a number of times. During the Beijing Olympics torch relay, which traveled through Nagano Prefecture in April 2008, the flame went out as swimmer Kosuke Kitajima was receiving it, and was subsequently reignited.

    Q: Are there reserve flames?

    A: In case of unpredictable developments, the organizing committee keeps in lanterns pilot lights that were taken from the flame that was lit in Greece in March last year. When a torch flame goes out, it is supposed to be relit from one of the pilot lights. But, when it went out during the torch relay for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, a nearby official was caught on camera reigniting it with a lighter. Media reports of the incident attracted much discussion at the time.

    (Japanese original by Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)

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