Athens 1896 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony - Arrivals of the officials in the pan-Athenian stadium (c) IOC
The Opening Ceremony attracts hundreds of millions of television viewers worldwide, as well as tens of thousands of delighted and enthralled spectators inside the Olympic stadium. It is also – first and foremost – a majestic show, through which each host nation exhibits its culture, history, achievements and, often, its sense of humour.
Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony - Entrance of the delegation of Great Britain (c) Kishimoto/IOC
Proudly led by their flag bearers, countries’ delegations then parade around the stadium track. There are then a number of protocols and rituals that must be performed: the Games must be declared open by the host nation’s head of state; the Olympic flag must be carried into the stadium and raised; the Olympic oath must be spoken by an athlete, judge and coach; and doves of peace must be symbolically released.
London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony - Entrance of the Olympic flag (c) IOC/R. Juilliart
Next comes the most anticipated moment of the night: the culmination of the torch relay, during which fans finally discover which famous figure will light the Olympic flame – something that is always kept a well-guarded secret. Inevitably, a gigantic fireworks display brings the curtain down on the ceremony to launch a fortnight of elite sporting competition.
Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony
Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony - lighting of the Olympic cauldron (c) Getty
On 7 February 2014, the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi adopted a historical theme, portraying Russian achievements such as industrialisation, space exploration and the foundation of St. Petersburg, and celebrating great authors and composers, all seen – in 13 distinct parts – through the eyes and dreams of a young girl named Lyubov (which means “love” in Russian).
Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony (c) Getty
After President Vladimir Putin had declared the Games open, three-time gold medallists Irina Rodnina (figure skating) and Vladislav Tretiak (ice hockey lit the Olympic cauldron together outside Fisht Stadium, ), accompanied by the music from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.
London 2012 Opening Ceremony
Humour played a prominent part in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, an extravaganza conceived by film director Danny Boyle. British history was covered in detail, with the country’s green and pleasant land giving way to the Industrial Revolution and the age of the Internet.
London 2012 Opening Ceremony (3) (c) IOC/R. Juilliart
Great Britain’s contribution to modern music was recognised with homages to and appearances from home-grown global rock and pop stars, culminating in a memorable performance from Sir Paul McCartney, who sang “Hey Jude” with help from the enraptured audience.
Other famous figures who made their mark on the evening included Mr Bean (played by Rowan Atkinson), who wreaked havoc during the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of “Chariots of Fire”, and Queen Elizabeth II, who was collected by James Bond (Daniel Craig) at Buckingham Palace, before parachuting from a helicopter above the Olympic stadium, and then magically appear in the grandstand a few seconds later.
Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony
The Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games was held in Vancouver’s impressive BC Place Stadium. It began in stunning fashion with Canadian snowboarder Johnny Lyall, who was seen shooting down a mountain slope on a giant screen, before appearing in the flesh to leap through giant Olympic rings.
Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony (c) IOC/J. Huet
The ceremony’s culmination was equally remarkable, as a quartet of Canadian sporting legends – Catriona Le May-Doan (speed skating), Steve Nash (basketball), Nancy Greene (Alpine skiing) and Wayne Gretzky (ice hockey) – joined forces to light the Olympic cauldron. Gretsky then took the flame across Vancouver to light a second cauldron in Jack Poole Plaza in the town’s waterfront district, so that the Canadian public could admire it for the duration of the Games.
Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony (c) IOC/R. Juilliart
Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony
Against the magnificent backdrop of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium, Beijing’s Opening Ceremony began at 8.08 on 08/08/08 with 2008 drummers, much to the delight of the locals in the audience, given that eight is traditionally a lucky number in China.
Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony (c) Getty
The sublime spectacle, which made use of 14,000 extras, retraced 5,000 years of Chinese civilisation. Athletes paraded with their flags, including Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, who held the hand of a child who had been caught up in the traumatic earthquake that had struck Sichuan in May that year.
Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony (c) Getty
China’s President Hu Jintao declared the Games open, before the country’s legendary gymnast Li Ning was hoisted by wires towards the Olympic cauldron to light the flame, all the while seemingly running horizontally along the stadium walls.
Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony (c) IOC/R. Juilliart