The opening ceremony of the Olympics has become one of the most anticipated events of the whole tournament. Nations wrack their brains on how to out-do each other in evermore expensive and elaborate ceremonies that sometimes verge on the bizarre. With the London Olympics just a few days away we are giddy with excitement as to what Director Danny Boyle has in store for us. Here are some of the most famous moments from Olympic opening ceremony history.
With all the pomp of ceremony of the National Socialists the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympics was the best organised and most impressive to date. Against the neo-classical backdrop of Olympic Stadium the orderly organisation of the athletes marching by it truly is a breath-taking snapshot of a time in history. The ceremony was ironically themed inclusivity and community, but it was really all about one man. Hitler, as he tended to do, hogged the limelight. It was the first ceremony to be televised.
Releasing doves into the air as fighter jets created the Olympic logo in the sky above was a sight to behold. The doves milled around the stadium to the much to the delight of the watching crowd. However, as the Korean torchbearers approached the mechanised platform that would elevate them to the Olympic pyre you could see that some of the doves had perched on the edge. The torchbearers looked a bit confused as to what they should do, but when the world is watching, you have to just carry on. Doves are very pretty birds, but they’re not the most intelligent, how could they have known the danger they were in? When the pyre ignited flames engulfed a number of the birds barbequing them instantly. After this episode the tradition of releasing doves was discontinued.
The Olympic cauldron was lit by paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo who shot an arrow lit by the last Olympic torchbearer. The world held their breath as he raised his bow to the pyre and fired. He had only one chance to do it, but Rebollo held his nerve sending the arrow in a swooping arc to land exactly on target.
Probably the greatest athlete who ever lived, Muhammad Ali, was given the chance to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening of the Atlanta Games in 1996 as the crowning moment in an utterly over-the-top and enjoyable opening ceremony. A trembling Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease looked a vulnerable figure before the world adding poignancy to the moment. He also received a replacement medal for the one he won in1960 but later cast into the Ohio River.
Australia’s first Aborigine athlete to win an Olympic gold was also the torchbearer to light the pyre. Amidst giant floating jellyfish Cathy Freeman, wearing a futuristic Buck Rodgers style body suit seemed to walk on water as lit the flame which created a circle around her, then a robotic seashell-type structure rose above her and floated like a UFO up a giant waterfall to sit at the top of the stadium. Absolutely bizarre, but brilliant.
Whoever booked Björk for the opening ceremony must have been a fan, as the reception was lukewarm at best. Don’t get us wrong, we love Björk, but her outlandishly large dress that covered the heads of the athletes as well as the choice of song Oceania were perhaps misjudged.
Nobody knew what to expect when China opened her doors. What they got was the Bird’s Nest stadium filled with 2008 traditional drummers in an awe-inspiring if intimidating display of ferocious welcome. The bar for Olympic Opening ceremonies was duly raised. Watch all 8 minutes of this clip, if you haven't seen it before, prepare to be amazed.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty