The 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games officially got under way in Nanjing on 16 August at 20h00 local time, with a pulsating Opening Ceremony at the city’s Olympic Sports Centre.
Images of the Ceremony quickly spread around the world thanks to thousands of “selfies” taken by athletes and spectators at the request of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. President Bach spoke directly to the 3,800 young athletes taking part in the Games to encourage them to share the moment with the world.
“Dear young athletes, these are your Games. This is your moment,” said President Bach. “So, young athletes, please join me: let us all capture it – so get your smart phones out and let’s set a record for selfies,” he added, before being joined on stage by five YOG athletes for his own “YOG selfie”. Everyone in attendance was then asked to follow suit, and post their selfies on social media sites using the hashtag #YOGselfie. “By sending this selfie … you are sending a strong message around the world,” President Bach continued.
The IOC President went on to underline the broader meaning of the YOG, which extends far beyond the sporting arena, and embraces the themes of culture, education and friendship.
“You are showing your passion for sport and for fair competition. You are demonstrating that Olympic sport reaches beyond competition. It is also about sharing, learning and making friends across our globe,” he told the participants.
Nanjing 2014 served up an impressive curtain-raiser. Nearly all of the performers were students from universities around China. Designed to appeal to young people and capture the youthful vitality and spirit of the YOG, the ceremony embraced the concept of the ‘sound and light’ show with an imaginative blend of colour, music and physical performance.
Over 9,000 proposals for contributions to the ceremony had been submitted by local young people and many of these were incorporated into the final programme, very much reinforcing President Bach’s exhortation for young people to take ownership of the YOG.
As is the custom for all Olympic opening ceremonies, proceedings kicked off with the Parade of Athletes. Each of the 204 country delegations comprised just a single flagbearer marching behind a Chinese “host”, while the rest of their team-mates enjoyed the spectacle from the stands, along with dignitaries such as the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and IOC Honorary President Jacques Rogge, whose brainchild the Youth Olympic Games had been during his tenure as President.
In time-honoured Olympic tradition, Greece led the way in the Parade, which culminated with the host nation, China, who boasted the largest delegation, and whose athletes will be competing in all 28 disciplines at Nanjing 2014.
The Olympic flag was borne into the stadium by six famous Chinese Olympians - Ren Cancan, Wu Minxia ,Liu Xiang, Lei Sheng, Wu Jingyu, Wang Liqin, Zhang Xi and Qiu Jian - before yet another core element of the Opening Ceremony was observed, as the Olympic Oath was taken by table tennis player Fan Zhendong (on behalf of the athletes), Zhou Qiurui (on behalf of the officials) and Li Rongxiang (on behalf of the coaches).
With the formalities concluded, it was time for the entertainment to take centre stage.
One of the main themes was the great history of Nanjing and China, its icons and landmarks, including the magnificent Purple Mountain Observatory. Explorer Zheng He's expeditionary voyages to the west and the development of the Silk Road were also showcased in the form of a fleet of fire-red boats, as the entire arena was transformed into a virtual ocean, to a backdrop of traditional Chinese drums.
Among the highlights of the musical programme was a moving performance of the Nanjing 2014 theme song “Dianliang Weilai,” (“Light Up to Meet the Future”), which was performed by singers from China, the Republic of Korea and Russia.
Symbolising the “building of the dream” – one of the key themes of Nanjing 2014 – a gravity- defying human tower reached into the sky, before the acrobats, all suspended on wires, broke into an beautifully choreographed mid-air ballet.
Later, the spotlight switched to five pianists playing in perfect synchronicity and harmony, each seated a piano in one of the five colours of the Olympic rings, which represent the five continents of the Olympic Movement. In contrast to the classical music, we were reminded that Nanjing 2014 was harnessing the best of the technology age, as huge computer binary sequences were projected across the floor of the arena, before giving way to a vast map of the world, with the spotlight homing in on Nanjing to remind us that, for the next 12 days, Nanjing is very much the centre of the sporting world.
A sea of white dancers then formed concentric circles that then morphed into the colours of the Olympic rings. Amidst this panoply of colour, the Games mascot Nanjinglele entered the stage, while the huge astronomical telescope at one end of the stadium – a symbol of reaching for the stars – also transformed into the five interlaced Olympic rings.
Then a film montage showing the various stages of the Torch Relay then heralded the long-awaited entrance into the stadium of the Olympic torch, which was then transported on the final leg of its journey by a relay comprising of six China’s greatest Olympians: Lin Dan (two-time men’s Olympic badminton champion); Zhou Yang, (double Olympic short-track speed skating champion; Zhang Jike (reigning world and Olympic table tennis champion); Wu Jingyu (double Olympic taekwondo gold medallist); Chen Ding, (the race walker who won gold at London 2012); and finally diver Chen Ruolin, a native of Jiangsu Province, who also won gold at London 2012. She then carried the torch up onto a platform which then moved across the length of the stadium towards the Olympic cauldron above the stadium which was then lit in a blaze of pyrotechnical brilliance.
The ceremony climaxed in a blaze of colour and noise, as all performers returned to the stage accompanied by the Nanjing 2014 anthem ‘Light Up the Future”. The anthem’s chorus translates as “The future is on its way, reach for the sky, follow your dreams” – a message that captures perfectly the spirit of the YOG and indeed the Olympic Movement. Five giant figures towered above them, finally linking hands in a symbol of unity and friendship.
But we were not finished just yet. Echoing back to the IOC President’s exhortation to the young athletes to make the Games their own, the “selfie” which he had taken with the young athletes at the start of the Ceremony then appeared on the big screen!