Ah the Olympics. An international event that stirs our collective national pride every four years. I for one am a fan of the Olympics, not just because I love to root for the U.S.A but because I genuinely enjoy some of the events and the storylines. Also, it is nice to see that Bob Costas still has a job and still looks the same as he did 25 years ago . . . I want to know his secret to the fountain of youth.
It’s also a great opportunity to throw a killer opening ceremonies party for friends and family. In a couple hours, the 2012 London Olympic Games will kick off in what is sure to be a star-studded opening ceremony. OK, maybe not star-studded since it is rumoured that the Spice Girls are performing, but interesting none-the-less. I am sure we will get an obligatory David Beckham appearance and maybe a little “hold me closer tiny dancer” routine from our favorite purple glasses wearing troubadour. No matter what, it should be memorable.
During the build up to this year’s Olympics, I got to thinking about how the opening ceremonies have evolved in the spectacle that is today’s event. The birth of the modern ceremony dates back to the 1920 Antwerp games. Yes, there were ceremonies during the ancient games, but most of the traditions we know today come from 1920. These games introduced the current Olympic flag. The flag and Athlete’s Oath, which was also introduced during the 1920 games, were created to symbolize fair play and unity in a post WWI society.
Unfortunately, the pageantry that we see in the opening ceremonies today can be attributed to the Nazi’s during the 1936 games. Always ones to flaunt their power, the Nazis built a 100,000 seat stadium and reintroduced the idea of running the relay torch from Athens to the host city.
In 1964, Japan became the first Asian city to host the games. Like a lot of the host countries they used the opening ceremonies to make some poignant political and societal statements. The final torch bearer, Yoshinori Sakai, was born on the day Hiroshima was bombed in WWII – August 6, 1945.
The 1980 Moscow Summer Games were the most recent games that were clouded in contention. President Jimmy Carter held true to his threat to boycott the games because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. That year 65 countries refused to participate and only 80 sent athletes to the games.
Over the last two decades, the opening ceremonies have taken on more of a celebratory feel. Who could forget the archer lighting the torch in Barcelona, or Muhammad Ali in Atlanta. Even the 2002 games here in Salt Lake City featured one of the most iconic teams in Olympic history – the 1980 U.S. winter Olympic hockey team.
In 2000, Sydney hosted the Summer Games on the 100th anniversary of women’s inclusion in the Olympics. Aboriginal runner, Cathy Freeman, lit the torch in an emotional tribute to women and her native people.
If Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens (2004) set the bar for theatrics, Beijing in 2008 was on a whole other planet. China used close to 14,000 participants, practicing a year in advance, to create the largest and most excessive ceremonies ever. I still can’t get the image of those drummers, all perfectly synchronized, out of my head.
We probably won’t see quite the spectacle in London tonight that we did 4 years ago in Beijing, but I am going to guess that the Brits might have a few surprises up their sleeves. I really hope it has to do with knights, fish and chips, and football (the real version)! If not, I guess we can all get a chuckle out of the Spice Girls.
So enjoy the opening ceremonies tonight and the games to follow. Root for your country because it’s going to be a great 17 days!
Check out Time’s history of the opening ceremonies for an interesting look at the games.