So, the Olympics are finally upon us. After a series of controversies and tragedies in the build-up, the eyes of the world are on Rio as they hope the athletes will create the best games yet. Over the next few weeks, sporting heroes will be made, dreams will be dashed and legacies can be formed. However, another great aspect of any Olympic Games is the opening ceremony, from the colour, the noise, the performances and the memorable moments.
Here at Lucky Nugget Casino we will look at some of the most notable ceremonies to have taken place over the years, starting with events in the Maracanã recently.
Rio gives us an environmental warning
After the huge controversy surrounding the banning of most of the Russian participants, the Rio Olympics has already been a major news story for months. So, there was undoubted anticipation and excitement ahead of the opening ceremony, although there was already bad news on that front. Footballing legend and multiple World Cup winner Pele had announced that ill health would stop him being part of the opening ceremony, just hours before the start. Plus, with the cost coming in at just 5% of Beijing and 10% of London, we weren’t expecting the extravagant displays that we had become accustomed to over the past two ceremonies.
So, with the world watching, Brazil had the chance to get a message across and they took that chance to talk about… climate change! Yes, with the finest athletes from across the globe gathering from 208 nations and fans desperate to see the stars, in one of the most interesting cities on the planet, the lasting message from this ceremony will be that we need to look after our environment. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the opening ceremony? Time and a place. Although they knew what they were doing hitting the largest audience possible.
We were greeted with graphic images of the world’s biggest cities being swamped by the rising sea levels along with the impact of melting ice caps. This was combined with programme notes telling us it is time to start ‘healing the planet’. As well as that, each athlete was presented with a seed and a cartridge of soil to allow them to plant a native tree of Brazil, which will make up an ‘Athletes Forest’. In fairness, Brazil has justification to be worried about the nature of the planet with their Amazon rainforests and they need to look after their own interests, but this environmental theme certainly made this opening ceremony memorable for bizarre reasons.
There were, of course, a range of positives that came from the ceremony which was directed by Fernando Meirelles, who has history in film. We were given some great sights to what makes Brazil great, from the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, the samba dancing and lots of colour and creativity. Furthermore, the first refugee team to ever participate arrived to great acclaim and that was a bit of Olympics history right there.
All in all, Rio delivered a memorable opening ceremony, but ahead of the big events, if you can take anything from the opening ceremony it’s this – take care of the environment. Hmmm.
Muhammad Ali lights up Atlanta
While all Olympic ceremonies have memorable moments, over recent years the money and time that has gone into the production of these events mean that they become more eye-popping as time goes by.
However, for our next memorable moment we are going back to 1996 and one man will immediately spring to mind when you think of the Olympics in Atlanta – Muhammad Ali. The appearance of the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest’, and Gold medallist, ensured that this ceremony would be remembered forever and it created a poignant image.
The ceremony actually was the first to get the real grand productions that we now take for granted, with TV production teams drafted in, lighting and cameras that made it more technologically advanced than we were used to. It started off with all the typical 90’s themes that you would expect. Marching bands, cheerleaders, noise, colour and Celine Dion!
So, as the journey of the torch was coming to its conclusion, a fairly routine opening ceremony was coming to an end. However, approaching the final leg, nobody knew who was going to light the cauldron and kick-start the games. Literally, no one, except for the handful of producers who had arranged it – the rest of the world were oblivious. Rumours were rife that Evander Holyfield, the famous boxer who was from Atlanta would do it, but he was involved earlier on with the torch.
To the world’s astonishment, the legend that is Muhammad Ali appeared, ready to take the flame. What made this so amazing was that it was ten years since he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and his suffering was visible, but his courage to be there made this moment all the more special. With fans from all over the world, from all aspects of society, Ali was a true hero and seeing the former heavyweight champion of the world in this fragile state changed the atmosphere of the audience.
All things considered, the Atlanta Olympics will be synonymous with Muhammad Ali, despite his brief involvement. The image of him holding the torch will go down in history and it means that Atlanta ’96 will always be one of the best opening ceremonies that we have ever witnessed.
London 2012 has Royal approval
As mentioned, as the years go by, the cost and work that goes into production of the opening ceremony seemed to increase, with Beijing ’08 and London 2012 the two standout ceremonies that prove that. Starting in London, and with the work of Danny Boyle – and £27 million pounds, the capital sent out a message to the world that Britain was great.
It started in a strange way, with a range of British livestock circling the stadium to celebrate the history of rural Britain. Anyway, after the sheep had made their way out of the brand new Olympic Stadium, the rest of the show could go on.
With the Olympic rings ablaze, the ceremony really began and that’s when the fun really started. Enter the finest British agent around. 007 – James Bond. The audience were treated to a fine pre-prepared film that saw Bond (Daniel Craig) talking to Her Majesty, and it was the actual Queen! She plays along very well as the film continues, although, we can’t confirm it was her who parachuted out into the middle of the Olympic Stadium…
After celebrating Bond, the Queen and rural Britain, what was next? The NHS of course! Celebrating the best of Britain and the NHS had to be mentioned, and hundreds of their beds and nurses paid a fine tribute to the hard work that goes on behind the scenes with a great display.
Throughout the ceremony there were performances from many of the great British artists over the years. The Beatles songs were featured, Oasis front-man Liam Gallagher was there, David Bowie, Arctic Monkeys and the Sex Pistols. Plus, how could we forget Dizzee Rascal…
Away from the music scene we have to reserve a special mention for the genius Only Fools and Horses scene that was recreated with Del and Rodney as Batman & Robin. Brilliant!
As well as that, a host of famous British sports stars were involved with the passing of the torch, with David Beckham and Olympic Great Sir Steve Redgrave among those involved, although the final stage was completed by a group of young athletes which was rather unexpected. They combined to light the one big flame and London 2012 was underway!
London followed Beijing in costing plenty of money, but produced fantastic results. Detailing the past of Britain, and all their icons, the audience were intrigued and on the edge of their seat, and by getting the Royals involved it certainly made this opening ceremony a very memorable one.
Beijing wows the world
In 2008 China were awarded the Olympics for the very first time and they were determined to show the world that they could host the best Games so far, and what better way to do that than by starting with a superb opening ceremony? That’s what they did.
In front of 91,000 people at the Beijing National Stadium, the ceremony kicked off at 8pm, on the 8th of August, the eighth month of the year in 2008. What’s the significance? Well, in China the number 8 is associated with prosperity and confidence, so in order to follow all the good omens possible, that’s when it started, and it was the platform to show the world that China was great.
However, before the ceremony had even begun there was a huge controversy that threatened to engulf the event. One of the performers, a young girl who was due to sing, was replaced by a more ‘camera-friendly’ alternative who would lip-sync, which understandably generated awful publicity. Yet, once we were ready to go, that would no longer dominate the headlines.
As an introduction, the audience were greeted to 2,008 drummers who conducted a light show that created a spectacular setting and got the ceremony off to a truly staggering start. It was something that most had never seen before and was a brilliant thing to watch and to listen to, leaving many people awestruck.
In truth, Beijing must go down as the most remarkable opening ceremony of all time when it comes to the time, effort and quality of the production, and after the drummers they had a lot to live up to as the ceremony concluded. But of course, they managed it.
It involved famous Chinese gymnast, Li Ning who seemed to walk on air before reaching the torch and lighting the cauldron, and the Games were ready to begin. It was a marvellous ending to an incredible ceremony – and the rest of the world loved it.
The Seoul dove disaster
Unfortunately, as with any Olympic ceremony, things can go wrong. There’s a lot of organising and everything has to run to precise times. Plus, it’s live, you don’t know what will happen, and Seoul 1988 is testament to that – and it started so well!
With South Korea’s president opening the Games, the country was showing the world what they were about. Hymns were sung, and then the doves were released, a nice touch, I’m sure you’d agree.
However, as former Korean Olympians ran to complete the final leg of the torch, things were about to go wrong. They slowly elevated up the platform, holding their own relay torches proudly in the air, but failed to realise that the doves that had been released earlier had decided to perch on the cauldron above, no doubt to get a good view of the event.
Anyway, and I’m sure you can see where this is going, as soon as the relay torches hit the cauldron it went up in flames and burned the doves alive in the process – with the whole world watching. Not good.
So, there you have it, some of the most memorable moments in Olympic opening ceremony history – if you think there’s anything we’ve missed leave a comment below! It gives you the chance to show off your country and city, and spread your message across the world. From the brilliant in Beijing, to the crazy in Rio and the awful in Seoul, we have seen a lot over the decades – now let the sport begin!