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05 Feb 2007
IOC News

Sapporo, the Games’ entry into Asia

Some 35 years ago, the Japanese city of Sapporo hosted the XI Olympic Winter Games, the first to be organised on the Asian continent. The Opening Ceremony therefore had to be as spectacular as it was memorable. Thus, on 3 February 1972, 50,000 spectators came together to share this event.
Japan marked by Olympism
Everything began at 10.10 a.m. in the heart of the Olympic Village: the delegations from 35 countries came together and prepared. Twenty minutes later, guided by loudspeakers, the nations began to march to the eastern door of the speed-skating rink in Makomanai, one kilometre away. Everything was ready.
It was 11 a.m. when the Opening Ceremony of the XI Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo officially began. The colours of all the nations present were flown at the same time as the Olympic flag. The Kimigayo (Japanese national anthem) rang out, accompanying the arrival of the Emperor and Empress of Japan, before making way for The March of the Sapporo Games, announcing the beginning of the parade. The Greek delegation opened the procession. Thirty-three countries later, the Japanese team closed the parade: 1,291 athletes and officials stood together in centre of the Stadium.
Silence fell. Mr Uemura, President of the Organising Committee, took his position on the rostrum, accompanied by the fifth President of the International Olympic Committee, American Avery Brundage. Speaking in Japanese, the IOC President invited Emperor Hirohito to declare the Games open. Then followed a resounding chorus of trumpets; the ceremony had reached its peak; the crowds were beside themselves with joy.
Mr Itagaki, Mayor of Sapporo, then received the Olympic flag from his counterpart in Grenoble, the host city of the previous Games. At this moment, the flame entered the Stadium, carried by skater Isumi Tsujimura. She gave it to schoolboy Hideki Takada, who lit the Olympic cauldron to the sound of The Sapporo Games Anthem. To end, the athletes’ and judges’ oaths were solemnly sworn, and 848 schoolchildren released 18,000 balloons of every colour into the cold morning air. The Kimigayo was sung once again and several fireworks marked the end of this Opening Ceremony, which was as spectacular as it was memorable.
The lilac tree, lily of the valley and the cuckoo
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaidõ, the most northern island of the Japanese archipelago. It was on the Ishikari plain that the Ainus built Sapporo – an Ainu word that can be translated as: “large river running through a plain”. Today, this city is 139 years old. Born as a small Ainu village, it has constantly developed to become a metropolis of 1.8 million inhabitants. Like most Japanese cities, Sapporo has three emblems: a tree (the lilac tree), a flower (the lily of the valley) and a bird (the cuckoo).
Three other cities were in contention in the race to organise the 1972 Winter Games: Banff (Canada), Lahti/Åre (Sweden) and Salt Lake City (USA). To show that it was up to the task that awaited it, Sapporo undertook vast work to carve out several ski runs and a bobsleigh track in the mountains. Today, these facilities still host international competitions, such as the 2007 World Nordic Skiing Championships.
They city of Sapporo was able to do credit to Olympism by hosting the XI Winter Games, which were marked as much by sporting performances as by the brilliance of the Opening Ceremony.
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