Olympics A-Z

Olympics A-Z: Opening Ceremonies at the Olympic Games

Gaurav SinghGaurav Singh

July 11 2021
Olympics opening ceremony
(Courtesy :  Los Angeles Times)

The quadrennial event have always seen an extravagant celebration before the start of the competition.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics seems like a traditional curtain-raiser for what is the biggest sporting stage in the world. While some might call it an extravaganza, it has turned out to be a representation of the host nation and the rich cultures within their boundaries.

Most of the ceremonies follow a pattern. They include the artistic program, the parade of nations, lighting of the Olympic flame and the release of the doves. The ceremonies have a routine section as well. Representatives from both the Olympics and the host nation make speeches and officially open the Olympics.

Artistic Ceremony

The artistic ceremony is a wonderful spectacle that promises to encapsulate the host nation in the best possible way. It is one of those parts of the ceremony that is truly different between editions. It lends the Olympics and the opening ceremony a sense of flair as well as explore the various stories that define the host nation and city.

The ceremony consists of raising the host country’s flag and a performance of its national anthem. It is then followed by displays of various categories that generally follow a theme chose by the host nation. The performance includes music, singing, dance and other forms of art that are synonymous to the host nation and its history. The ceremony also tackles global issues and concerns.

Parade of Nations

This is another key part of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Most of the athletes enter the stadium as part of the parade, separated by the country they represent. Each nation nominates a flag bearer for this occasion. The flag bearer will mostly be a participating athlete from the country’s contingent.

From Tokyo 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has mandated to select two flag bearers for the opening ceremony, one of each genders.

Sushil Kumar was the Indian flag bearer at the Tokyo Olympics (photo credit- indian express)

Greece enters first in the arena due to their historical status with respect to the Olympics. After Greece, the teams enter in alphabetical order, based on the language selected by the committee, which is usually the language of the host city. The host nation enters last. The announcers announce each country’s name in English, French and the language of the host nation if it is neither of the two.

Opening the Olympics

After the parade of nations, the President of the Organizing Committee makes a speech and is followed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President. The Olympics are then declared open by the representative of the host country who is usually the head of state of the host nation.

After the declaration, the Olympic flag is brought in and hoisted as the Olympic hymn is played. Then an athlete, a judge and a coach take the Olympic oath. All three promise to uphold the values according to the rules of their respective sport and their roles.

Lighting of the Olympic cauldron

The Olympic flame is lit in a ceremony in Olympia, Greece several months before the Olympics. The first torch is lit by the rays of the sun, using a parabolic mirror. After the fire is lit, the torch travels around Greece and then travels from the earlier host city to the current host city.

The torch travels across the world through various means and finally enters the stadium during the opening ceremony. The final bearer of the torch runs towards the cauldron and then uses the torch to light the flame in the stadium. Usually, the last person to light the cauldron is a famous athlete of the country hosting the event. Notable athletes who have taken part in the ceremony include Paavo Nurmi in 1952, Muhammad Ali in 1996, Cathy Freeman in 2000 and Li Ning in 2008.

Release of Doves

The release of Doves has been symbolic since the Seoul Olympics (photo credit-koreaexpose)

After the cauldron is lit, they release the doves, symbolizing the universal message of peace. However, during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, many of the released doves were burned alive from the flame of the Olympic cauldron. Since then, the release has been symbolic.

The Sydney Olympics had a dove image projected on a white cloth while LED was used in 2004. The 2016 Rio Olympics ceremony had children with dove shaped kites running with retired Kenyan athlete Kipchoge Keino.

Tokyo 2020 – What to expect

Very little has been disclosed regarding the performers at the Tokyo Olympics. There were also concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans are not given entry at the stadiums for the opening ceremony due to the same reason. Only certain VIP spectators will take part in the ceremony.

The parade of nations will take place in a slightly different manner from Tokyo onwards. The Refugee Olympic Team will follow the Greece team. The next two hosts, France and the United States will enter second and third from last respectively ahead of the host nation.

The Olympic torch relay’s traditional route across Greece had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

Standout Opening Ceremony Moments

One of the best moments in an Olympic opening ceremony came in 1992 in Barcelona. The Olympic cauldron was lit by Paralympic Archer Antonio Rebello by means of a flamed arrow. Atlanta 1996 Games’ cauldron was lit by the legendary Muhammad Ali who was battling Parkinson’s at that time.

London 2012 opening ceremony saw several stunning appearances by famous pop culture figures like James Bond, Mr. Bean and Spice Girls. The opening ceremony during the Beijing Olympics was the definition of splendour having an estimated 100 million dollars as an expenditure.

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