Designing the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Torch

For the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games (SLOC), a team of designers and engineers from Georgia Tech was asked to help engineer design the Olympic Torch. The Olympic committee for SLOC had chosen a very unique and symbolic form for the torch. It incorporated a glass crown and tapered body with vines that symbolized a frozen icily for the winter games. Thus, the team at Georgia Tech was faced with many new and interesting challenges of designing a working torch that could withstand tough environmental constrains and be massed produced since 17,000 torches had to be made for runner and officials.

Tim Purdy, an instructor in the School of Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, helped lead the effort to model the torch form in Alias Studio. This allowed the team to evaluate alternative material and finishes choices, test fit components into the form and make prototypes and production pieces from the 3D data. Check out the complete project on the following pages.

The form of the olympic torch reflects the themes and ideals of each olympic. It also embodies concepts from each city and the surrounding area that host the olympics. The Salt Lake Olympic Torch incorporated many unique themes, ideals and concepts in its form and logos. I am not sure who actually came up with the design for the torch, but Brent Watts from Axiom Design was leading the charge and kept challenging us to keep the integrity of the form and themes. Thanks for the push Brent! I think we came pretty close.

Check out the official web site for the torch run to learn about the themes or read through the list below.

Embodiment of Themes

The 2002 Olympic Torch embodies several themes: “Land of Contrast — Fire and Ice,” “Light the Fire Within” and “Taming of the West — the Past and Present.” It is like a fiery icicle in motion, its curvature representing the dynamics of speed and fluidity.

‘Fire and Ice’

All Torch colors are in the cool spectrum except for the Olympic flame, which is showcased by its vibrance and warmth. The body of the Torch resembles ice in color and texture and is constructed of glass and silver metal. The bottom segment features crisp lines and a high-polish finish, lending it a modern look. The center section transitions to a stylized “frozen flame” texture that extends to the glass crown at the top, through which the Olympic Flame emerges. Inside the glass crown is a bold geometric structure with a copper finish. This copper structure is encased in ice and is based on the cauldron, the actual design of which will remain a secret until the Games.

‘Light the Fire Within’

The Olympic Flame, which can be seen burning inside the Torch’s glass crown, is a metaphor for Olympians’ passion for competition and victory. Each torch will be unique, just as every Olympic athlete is a true original.

Past and Present

The center section of the Torch has an aged, slightly time-worn finish, while the bottom of the Torch has a clean, high-polish finish. Torchbearers will hold the Torch at the junction of these two surfaces, representing the bridging of the past and present.


The materials in the Torch represent ideals of the Olympic Winter Games. Glass represents winter and nature as well as ice and purity. High-polish silver represents modern technology. Aged silver finish stands for the heritage, traditions and heirlooms of the West. Copper represents the fire, warmth and passion of Utah’s history.

During the initial phase of the project, we were given the freedom to explore different material choices and manufacturing methods to better capture the themes embodied in the torch and make the torch easier to manufacture. Our aesthetic design efforts concentrated in two areas: the glass top and the main body section.

The theme for the glass top was ice and the emergence of vines. which flow down the glass top and disappear into the body in the mid section. We explored many different ways to achieve an “ice” effect in glass. Two effects had better promise at achieving the goal. One was a rough cut effect on the exterior of the glass. The second effect evolved long cuts running vertical in the glass top.

The theme for the main body section was an antique effect, which darkness between the vines and lightens on the top edges of the vines. Several different ways to incorporate the vines were explored. One way to model vines has them extending out from the main body. The second method involves cutting the vines into the main body. The vines protruding out from the body was adopted since it work better with finish and a raised logo.

The engineers were also hard at work trying to figure out the best design for the flame. There challenges included designing a flame to stay lit in 30-40 mph wind, at elevations that ranged from sea level to a mile high, temperatures variations from 70-80° to below freezing and flame that emerges from within the glass area and not just from the top of the torch. Check out some of their design work at the Georgia Tech web site.

3d modeling was an integral part of the Olympic torch project. Alias Studio, the premiere industrial design modeling and rendering package, was able to easily capture the complex three-dimensional form. The body of the torch was an oval cross section that tapered from a three-inch diameter at the top to a half-inch diameter at the bottom.

At the same time, vines or protruding ridges emerged at the top crown area and flowed along the body. About half way down the body, the vines tapered back into the body. A snow flake logo, Olympic rings and “2002 Salt Lake” text was molded around the front of the main body. Many hours went into capturing the three-dimensional form of the torch on the computer.

Once a finalized form was approved, SLA parts were made of the crown, main body, lower handle and internal components. The crown SLA part was given a local glass blower who made glass crowns. The main body part was painted and finished in the antique look to capture one of the “Past” theme, while the lower handle was chrome plated capture “Present” theme.

Two semi-functional prototypes were made along with several mechanical prototypes. These served as test beds for the different burner designs.