Olympic Games ceremonies of the Ancient Olympic Games were an integral part of these Games; the modern Olympic games have opening, closing and medal ceremonies. Some of the elements of the modern ceremonies harken back to the Ancient Games from which the Modern Olympics draw their ancestry. An example of this is the prominence of Greece in both the opening and closing ceremonies. During the 2004 Games, the medal winners received a crown of olive branches, which was a direct reference to the Ancient Games, in which the victor’s prize was an olive wreath. The various elements of the ceremonies are mandated by the Olympic Charter and cannot be changed by the host nation. Even the artistic portion of the opening and closing ceremonies must meet the approval of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The ceremonies have evolved over the centuries. Ancient Games incorporated ceremonies to mark the beginning and ending of each successive game. There are both similarities and differences between the ancient Olympic ceremonies and their modern counterparts. While the presentation of the Games has evolved with improvements in technology and the desire of the host nations to showcase their own artistic expression, the basic events of each ceremony have remained unchanged. The presentation of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies continue to increase in scope, scale and expense with each successive celebration of the Games, but they are still steeped in tradition.
The Ancient Games, held in Greece from ca. 776 BC to ca. 393 AD, provide the first examples of Olympic ceremonies. The victory celebration, elements of which are in evidence in the modern-day medal and closing ceremonies, often involved elaborate feasts, drinking, singing, and the recitation of poetry. The wealthier the victor the more extravagant the celebration. The victors were presented with an olive wreath or crown harvested from a special tree in Olympia by a boy, specially selected for this purpose, using a golden sickle. The festival would conclude with the victors making solemn vows and performing ritual sacrifices to the various gods to which they were beholden.
There is evidence of dramatic changes in the format of the Ancient Games over the nearly 12 centuries that they were celebrated. Eventually, by roughly the 77th Olympiad, a standard 18-event program was established. In order to open a Games in ancient Greece the organizers would hold an Inauguration Festival. This was followed by a ceremony in which athletes took an oath of sportsmanship. The first competition, an artistic competition of trumpeters and heralds, concluded the opening festivities.
The artistic program is what creates the idiosyncratic element of each ceremony. Coubertin’s initial vision of the Modern Olympics featured both athletic competitions and artistic achievements. As the modern Olympics have evolved into a celebration of sport, it is in the opening ceremonies that one can see the most of Coubertin’s ideal. The opening ceremonies are an important ritual of the Olympic games. They represent a wide variety of features such as similar qualities and messages that link together local and global issues, as well as cultural similarities at the same scopes. The artistic program of the ceremonies allows the host country to showcase its past and future in a comprehensive way. The ceremonies typically start with the raising of the host country’s flag and a performance of its national anthem. The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theater representative of its culture, history, and the current Olympic game motto.
Parade of Nations
The traditional part of the ceremonies starts with a “Parade of Nations“, during which most participating athletes march into the stadium, country by country. It is not compulsory for athletes to participate in the opening ceremonies. Due to the short time interval between the ceremonies and the first events of the Games, many athletes competing in these early events elect not to participate. It is most common for swimmers to forgo the Opening Ceremony because their events are early on the first day of competition.
For every Opening Ceremony, each host country has a theme. During the “Parade of Nations”, the host country’s goal is to represent their cultural identity and to show the world their place in society. For example, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics the theme was “unity”. On May 12, 2008, a devastating earthquake erupted in Sichuan. As the host country, China wanted to remember this tragic event by having Yao Ming, a Chinese basketball legend, walk hand-in-hand with Lin Hao, a nine-year-old boy who saved some of his classmates during the earthquake.
After all nations have entered, the President of the Organizing Committee makes a speech, followed by the IOC president. At the end of his speech, he introduces the representative of the host country who officially declares the opening of the Games. Despite the Games having been awarded to a particular city and not to the country in general, the Olympic Charter presently requires the opener to be the host country’s head of state. However, there have been many cases where someone other than the host country’s head of state opened the Games. The first example was at the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris in 1900, which had no opening ceremony before as part of the 1900 World’s Fair. See the List of people who have opened the Olympic Games.
Finally, the Torch is brought into the stadium, passed from athlete to athlete during the torch relay, until it reaches the last carrier; often a well-known athlete from the host nation, who lights the fire in the stadium’s cauldron. Under IOC rules, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron must be witnessed by those attending the opening ceremony, implying that it must be lit at the location where the ceremony is taking place. Another IOC rule states that the cauldron should be witnessed outside by the entire residents of the entire host city. This was made evident during the opening ceremony for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. The venue chosen as the Olympic Stadium was BC Place, which at the time was an air-supported domed stadium. Since there was no way the cauldron could be displayed outside and also be seen at the stadium, two cauldrons were used. For the first torch lighting inside the stadium the organizers chose three-time speed skating medalist Catriona Le May Doan, Canadian Senator Nancy Greene, who won two medals for Canada at the 1968 Games, NBA star Steve Nash, a native of nearby Victoria, and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, to each light one of four arms of the torch. Notably, Le May Doan’s arm refused to light; this was later rectified during the closing ceremony when she got a second chance to light her part of the torch and succeeded.
Beginning at the post–World War I 1920 Summer Olympics, the lighting of the Olympic Flame was followed by the release of doves, symbolizing peace. (Experienced athletes brought newspapers to cover themselves because of the birds’ droppings.) The release was discontinued after several doves were burned alive in the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Summer Olympics. It was later replaced with a symbolic release of doves after the flame has been lit.
In the 2000 ceremony, a dove image was projected on an enormous white cloth held by the athletes on the stadium floor. In 2004, an LED screen was used. In 2006, acrobats formed the shape of a dove. The 2008 ceremony had fireworks representing doves. In 2010, dove figures were projected on the stage floor. The 2012 ceremony had bicyclists with dove-wings, lit by LEDs. In the 2014 ceremony several dancers, holding strands of blue LED lights, danced on the shape of a dove projected on the stadium floor.
Here’s a journey through the opening ceremony moments of this great sporting spectale.