ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece, May 11 (Reuters) - British designers Jay Osgerby and Edward Barber spent 18 months developing a failproof Olympic torch that could withstand snow, driving rain and gusty winds, only to see it ultimately likened to a cheese grater.
The duo say they were delighted with the nickname for their gold-coloured torch for the London Games.
“It’s greatly flattering. The way it works in Britain is that if doesn’t get a nickname, it’s not a success. So we’re really pleased that we have the name ‘Golden grater’,” Osgerby told Reuters, after he and Barber watched the torch set off on an eight-day relay across Greece from the ruins of Ancient Olympia.
The designers say the idea for a triangular torch with 8,000 holes had nothing to do with a cheese grater.
“Honestly I never realised it came in that shape. When they first said that I was like, ‘Really?’ And then I looked and obviously it does,” said Barber.
“Everything that people have an affection for in the end gets a name...so it’s great.”
The aluminium torch, which is now criss-crossing islands and towns across Greece, arrives in Britain on May 18 for a 70-day relay that culminates with the lighting of the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Games on July 27.
Standing 800mm tall and weighing one kg, the torch has a perforated design that was a product of combining the rigorous technical criteria of a light, weather-resistant torch with the story of the London Olympics, the designers said.
“In our relay there are 8,000 runners and 8,000 miles, so we felt that the perforations could represent each one of those people running in the relay,” said Osgerby.
“And that makes it superlight. It meant we could use just one material and that the heat from the top would not come down to the hand of the holder - the holes help dissipate the heat.”
The triangular shape symbolises the three times that London will have held the Games - the previous times being in 1908 and 1948 - as well as the faster, higher, stronger motto of the Olympic movement and the sport, education and culture vision of the 2012 Games.
The lightness and simplicity of the design helped the duo to win the UK Design of the Year 2012 award last month.
Such a torch could not have been used in previous Olympics as it relies on new laser technology that allows 16 holes to be cut into the torch per second. The laser used was originally developed for use in aero engine turbines.
“A few years ago, you could only cut maybe about one hole per second with a laser,” Barber said.
Through the years, getting the torch design right has been a tricky art. The whisk-like metal torch conceived for the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 ended up getting too hot to handle and set off minor explosions, slightly injuring athletes.
The smooth metal torch by French designer Philippe Starck for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics was difficult to hold, while the heavy plastic 1992 Barcelona design had a top that often melted in the hands of runners.
Barber and Osgerby say they are confident their torch can avoid similar mishaps, pointing to the extreme testing it was put through so it can withstand fickle British summer weather.
“It’s probably the most tested torch in history,” said Osgerby.
Put through the carmaker BMW’s wind tunnels, the torch stayed alight through temperatures from minus five degrees Celsius up to 40 degrees and winds of more than 80 kph, as well as snow and rain.
“It’s been blasted with snow and rain at high speeds,” said Barber. “Of course anything could happen but we’re pretty confident.”
For a factbox on the London 2012 torch, click on (Editing by Clare Fallon)