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22 Nov 2006
IOC News , museum-news-articles

To the antipodes of their ancient roots

Fifty years ago, Melbourne, a city on the opposite side of the world to Ancient Greece, hosted the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XVI Olympiad. An event which totally lived up to expectations and attracted an unexpectedly large number of people.
An opening timed to the minuteAfter long preparations, the Opening Ceremony could at last begin. It was 1 p.m. in Melbourne when His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh opened these Games with the famous phrase: “I declare open the Olympic Games of Melbourne, celebrating the XVI Olympiad of the modern era.”
Then came a trumpet fanfare with the hoisting of the Olympic flag, and 500 pigeons took off from the stadium. Twenty-one guns saluted the moment, and at last the flame arrived, carried by athlete Ron Clarke, who did a lap of the track before lighting the Olympic cauldron, where the flame burned for 16 days. The air was then filled with the voices of a 1,200-strong choir singing the Olympic Anthem.
John Landy, captain of the Australian delegation, stood up to pronounce the Olympic oath, followed by the national anthem played by the band of the Royal Australian Air Force, the sign for the athletes’ march to begin. Seventy-two delegations paraded around the track. In all, 3,500 athletes and officials took part in this symbolic march. Seven minutes later than scheduled, the parade concluded, and the Ceremony was closed, making way for the first events.
A useful precaution
Before the various delegations could parade, it was necessary to put them in order. For this purpose, the Richmond Cricket Ground, sited 457m from the stadium, was used as the antechamber to the parade. To guide the delegations towards the stadium entrance, the organisers placed barriers along both sides of the route – an initiative which was to play quite another role. Indeed, on the day of the ceremony, there were far more spectators than expected, with the result that there were as many people outside as inside the stadium. The barriers kept the crowd outside under control, and avoided any potential problems.
2000: back to Australia
Forty-four years after the Games in Melbourne, they returned to Australian soil, this time in Sydney: with 127 nations, 7,337 athletes and 155 additional events. An even more spectacular Opening Ceremony showed how the Olympic Games had evolved.
The ceremony was held on 15 September. As well as the official parts, the high point of this event was the sound and light show. In the form of various tableaux, the history of Australia was told to the 110,000 spectators present. From tribal dances to Australian horse riders, with a celebration of nature and the ocean, a magical display by 12,600 volunteers took over the stadium. The climax came with the entry of Aboriginal sprinter Cathy Freeman, who lit the Olympic cauldron to signal the start of the impressive parade by the 199 delegations taking part.

Forty-four years separated the Games in Melbourne from those in Sydney, and even if the Opening Ceremony had become more spectacular, the Olympic spirit was still the same, or perhaps even stronger.

 Melbourne 1956

 Sydney 2000

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