David Florence: “The Ceremonies are a celebration of diversity”
Slalom canoeist David Florence competed for Team GB at Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016, winning a silver medal on each occasion. Here he shares his memories of the opening and closing ceremonies at those Games.
Beijing in 2008 was my first Olympic Games and, for me, the Opening Ceremony was a pretty incredible experience. I can remember it being very, very exciting when we were standing in the tunnel as a team waiting to parade. It was all very surreal too. It was just a mass of athletes waiting to walk out into the Bird’s Nest stadium and, as we were waiting, we could see a small section of the crowd in the stands and we could hear the fireworks going off. We knew there was this amazing show going on and I could only catch a glimpse of it over the heads of the hundreds of other athletes who were in front of me, queuing up, waiting to walk out. It was an amazing experience.
The opening ceremony is obviously not actually a part of the sporting side of the Games, but there’s so much hype around it and it’s watched by so many people around the world so it’s pretty special. I’d watched a lot of opening ceremonies on television when I was growing up so it was a pretty strange feeling to be a part of it. And with Beijing being the first Olympics I’d ever been to, I knew that all my friends and family, and even just people who I only had a distant connection with at home, would have been watching on television and be excited that they knew someone who was at the Olympic Games and at the Opening Ceremony. All of those factors made it a very exciting occasion to be a part of.
After my event was over, we had a full week where we were able to go out and party, meet lots of other athletes and just have fun, so the Closing Ceremony was just a continuation of that. We’d lived with the rowers during our competition and so we were with them at the Closing Ceremony and we were talking to lots of other people we knew so there was just a really great, relaxed atmosphere.
At Beijing, there was the handover to London. The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, was on stage, and I remember one of the rowers doing a really good impression of him which was pretty funny. Everyone was just milling around chatting to athletes from other countries and from other sports and then when we all got back to the Village, there was a huge celebration. The night of the closing ceremony is the first time in the Games that every single athlete is finished competing and so it turns into a bit of a party zone which is great fun.
What’s really striking about closing ceremonies is that it’s such a diverse environment. You’ve got athletes from tiny nations, athletes from war-torn nations - there’s such a mix. And there’s athletes who might not be as strong in world terms in their sport but they’re getting the chance to represent their country, athletes for whom the Olympic Games represent the very pinnacle of their career, but who do not make any money from their sport, and athletes like the NBA guys who are on million-dollar contracts - it’s so interesting to see such a mixture of people from every walk of life. And the diversity in shapes and sizes of athletes is really striking - there’ll be tiny gymnasts, basketball players who are almost 7 foot and weightlifters who are over 100kg - there’s absolutely every shape and size of person in there.
The Opening Ceremony of London 2012 was another amazing experience. The Village was right next to the stadium in London so when the Opening Ceremony began, Team GB was still in the Village, so we watched the first part of the Ceremony on television which was pretty surreal. It’s really unusual to have the opportunity to do that so it was great to see what was going on and get a feel for the Ceremony. A helicopter was part of the show and I remember that when it flew over the stadium, we all ran to the window to see what was going on in real time.
Then eventually, we had to leave the Village to join the queue to parade in. Team GB was parading last because we were the home nation and as soon as we entered the stadium, the crowd went absolutely wild. That was pretty cool and I felt like walking out was the pinnacle of the Ceremony. I think all of us in Team GB got a real sense of how excited everyone was about the Games. I had this feeling that this incredible atmosphere was going to spread throughout the entire nation because we knew so many people in Britain were watching at home on television and the excitement would be infectious.
The Closing Ceremony in London was quite a similar experience to Beijing for me. I’d had a pretty awesome time for the previous week between winning my medal and the Closing Ceremony coming around and I remember thinking that it was bizarre that some other athletes had only just finished competing because I’d spent the past week partying. At the Closing Ceremony there was a great atmosphere within the British team because we’d done phenomenally well and because of that, everyone in Team GB was on a real high, so it was a great way to finish a home Games.