The Olympic Committee has revealed the Rio 2016 torch, the brainchild of São Paulo–based design firm Chelles & Hayashi. When the flame is transferred to the torch during the relay, the aluminum-and-resin piece expands to show curved bands that reference Brazil’s rolling landscape and national flag. Gimmicky? Sure. But such is the history of Olympic torch design.
An infographic from the New York Times traces the lineage of the Olympic torch from 1936 (the torch relay’s inaugural year) until 2008 (when the story was published). Together, the designs tell stories about engineering, visual culture, and national values–and not always in the subtlest ways.
For example, a “Disney Imagineer” designed the 1960 torch for the Squaw Valley games. The Mexico torch of 1968 turned the logo—which was spectacular—into three dimensions, and made the whole thing look a whisk. In 1976, when the Games were in Montreal, designers began to pay more attention to how the torch would look on broadcast television. To that end, it featured a black top to make the flame more visible and a prominent logo.
In the 1990s, the silhouettes became more adventurous, as did materials and finishes. (Since the Times infographic dates from 2008, it’s missing torches from the Vancouver (2010), London (2012), and Sochi (2014) games.) Barber Osgerby‘s design for London is one of the few standouts over the years, as it has the right amount of symbolism (8,000 perforations represent the 8,000 relay holders and also make the torch lightweight), a contemporary silhouette, and classic material. Tough act to follow. Then again, Rio doesn’t look so bad standing next to its brethren (looking at you, Atlanta).