London’s opening ceremony full of surprises only five days out
This time next week, the Games of the 30th Olympiad will be underway. Queen Elizabeth II will declare the Olympics, London’s third games, open before the most sacred of sporting ceremonies.
It the lighting of the Olympic cauldron from the flame ignited at the spiritual home of the games at Olympia in Greece.
The opening ceremony is a night of surprises, especially for those who love their sport.
Incredibly, in this era of social media, instant news and Wikileaks, the most important parts of the ceremony have remained secret. It is a tribute to the organisers and to the director of ceremonies, Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle.
An Olympic opening ceremony tends to come across as four hours of ego stroking for the host nation, a demonstration of national pride.
In Sydney, this amounted to Australia’s natural beauty and Aboriginal heritage. In Athens, the focus was on Greece’s long, proud, cultured history. In Beijing, it was a display of their power, with a hint of propaganda.
From what has been revealed about London’s ceremony so far, it looks like it might be much of the same. Without revealing too much, expect nods to James Bond, Shakespeare and even Victorian-era cricketer W. G. Grace.
Oh, and Paul McCartney has been thrown in too, probably because he resented the fact John Lennon had been represented in a prior Olympic ceremony while he hid in the shadows (Lennon’s Beatle-destroying wife Yoko Ono made a speech at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, introducing Peter Gabriel who sang the timeless “Imagine”).
Sometimes, it can be hard to remember we are there to celebrate the world’s biggest sporting festival.
However, once the cultural display finishes, the focus firmly turns to sport: first, a celebration of the competing athletes, followed by a nod to the host country’s sporting heritage. And without doubt, the pinnacle is the lighting of the cauldron.
There have been some incredible moments associated with the lighting of the cauldron.
Who could forget Paralympian archer Antoni Rebollo firing a flaming arrow towards the tall cauldron in Barcelona? Four years later, it was The Greatest – Muhammad Ali – a shadow of himself, but still an eerie sight. And in Sydney, it was our Cathy Freeman wading through a pond before igniting the cauldron hidden beneath the water’s surface.
It can also go very wrong. A technical fault almost turned the cauldron sequence in Sydney from spectacular to sorry.
This was a nightmare experienced by organisers of the Vancouver winter games in 2010, when only three prongs of the four-part cauldron rose out of the ground.
And in Seoul, the cauldron was lit while numerous doves from the previous segment sat perched on the rim – needless to say, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the order of the ceremonies from then on, in order to avoid the horrific sight of charred doves.
Incredibly, five days out from the opening ceremony, only a handful of people know where the cauldron will be situated. The cauldron has been constructed by noted British designer Thomas Heatherwick, but there is still no sign of it anywhere within the vicinity of Olympic Park, let alone inside the stadium.
This is unusual – even when the cauldron was hidden, like in Sydney, it was still obvious from a month out where it would be located.
Usually, in the week leading up to the opening ceremony, there are tests of the lighting sequence, so perhaps more hints will be given in the coming days.
The identity of the last torchbearer, the one who will light the cauldron, is always a closely guarded secret. Recent speculation seems to have narrowed it down to rowing great Steve Redgrave and decathlete Daley Thompson, although others to come into contention include Roger Bannister, the world’s first four minute miler in 1954, former middle distance athlete Kelly Holmes and even this week’s Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.
However, if the organisers want to play the perennially popular youth card, it wouldn’t surprise to see young diver Tom Daley as the final torchbearer.
The Olympic flag is usually brought in by eight Olympians or sporting personalities, although this can sometimes vary. For example, in Salt Lake City, the flag was brought in by a range of noteworthy people, including director Steven Spielberg, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and and astronaut John Glenn.
In London, it has been rumoured that the eight flagbearers may include British sporting personalities who are not Olympians. David Beckham is one name likely to be involved, while it is possible cricketers, rugby players and even jockeys may be included as a nod to Britain’s sporting heritage.
Finally, the other surprise for Australian audiences is the identity of our flagbearer. This will not be a surprise come the ceremony itself, with AOC chief John Coates and chef-de-mission Nick Green to announce the flagbearer the night before.
Until now, the favourite had been five-time Olympian Natalie Cook, who won beach volleyball gold in 2000 with Kerri Pottharst, but she has made some comments that may detract from her bid to carry the flag – the AOC are notorious cleanskins.
Others said to be under consideration include shooter Michael Diamond, cyclist Stuart O’Grady and swimmer Leisel Jones.
Equestrian hero Andrew Hoy becomes the first Australian Olympian to compete at seven Olympics and would ordinarily be given the honour, but as he carried the flag in Atlanta in 1996, he is seen as an unlikely choice.
With only five days until the focus of the world turns to London, the Opening Ceremony on Friday night (Saturday morning Australian time) – at this stage, anyway – promises to be a night of surprises. Here’s hoping it is a fitting beginning for the greatest show on earth.
The Opening Ceremony time will be approximately 6am Saturday morning AET. (Check local guides)
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