Friday, 27 Jul 2012 05:07 PM
James Bond actor Daniel Craig and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth stole the show at an exuberant 2012 Olympic opening on Friday, appearing together in a short film beamed to 60,000 spectators in the main stadium and a billion viewers around the world.
After a an eccentric and exuberant trip through British history and culture, athletes took centre stage in London as the Greek team kept Olympic tradition and led out thousands of competitors dressed in national costumes.
Fencer Mariel Zagunis carries the tars and Stripes at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. (AP Photo)
They marched around the stadium in double quick time, urged on by the up-tempo beats of the Bee Gees and others, and the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt strode confidently with the Jamaican flag while playing up to cameras and cheering fans.
Libya and Egypt represented a new chapter in their history after the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring, while the first female Olympic athletes from Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar made history by making an appearance.
Earlier, footage featuring the 86-year-old monarch complemented a show that “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle turned into an unabashed celebration of the host nation stamped with an unmistakeably cinematic style.
While it struck the wrong note with some media commentators covering the ceremony around the world, the packed live audience was swept along in the drama.
In the tongue-in-cheek film Craig wears his trademark tuxedo and enters Buckingham Palace. The 86-year-old monarch with two corgis at her feet and in her cinematic debut, turns from a writing desk and says simply: “Good evening, Mr. Bond.”
Actors playing Mary Poppins at the Olympics opening ceremony. (AP Photo)
The moment drew a huge cheer from the audience, not used to seeing Her Majesty play such an informal part in proceedings and coincides with a resurgence in the royal family’s popularity following the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Doubles of Bond and the queen then parachuted onto the roof of the stadium from a helicopter, built on the Olympic Park in a once derelict area of London’s East End, and the national anthem and Union flag raising followed.
Queen Elizabeth is flanked by IOC President Jacques Rogge and her husband Prince Philip at the games opening ceremony. (AP Photo)
The surreal footage and stunt had been kept a closely guarded secret in the buildup to the ceremony, which also includes speeches, the athletes’ parade and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
Over the following 17 days, the drama of sporting contest takes hold the length and breadth of Britain as more than 16,000 athletes from 204 countries will aim to achieve their ultimate dream — Olympic gold.
The ceremony, inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and packed with literary and musical references, began with a recreation of an English rural idyll complete with grassy meadows, fences, hedges, a water mill, maypoles and a cottage.
A cast including shepherdesses, sheep, geese, dogs and a village cricket team filled the stage during the one-hour prologue to the show that included a dramatic, low-level fly-past by the jets of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows stunt team.
After “England’s green and pleasant land” came the “dark Satanic mills” of William Blake’s famous poem.
In the next phase titled “Pandemonium”, grass was brutally uprooted and fences dismantled to be replaced by a blackened scene that recalled the Industrial Revolution.
Drummers perform during the opening ceremony in London (AP Photo)
To the deafening beat of hundreds of drummers, giant chimneys rose from the ground and began to belch smoke as a small army of volunteers, dressed as 19th century factory workers, forged one of the five Olympic rings.
The giant orb was raised to the sky to join the four others, letting off a fountain of sparks and drawing gasps from many in the audience.
All around, especially designed “pixel” light boxes installed next to every seat accompanied each scene with giant images of waves, flags and words.
In the second of three “acts”, Boyle paid homage to the National Health Service, an emotive subject in Britain where people hold the right to free health care close to their hearts.
Hundreds of dancing and roller-skating nurses and doctors pushed beds on to the now empty stage, and when the beds were illuminated, they spelled “GOSH” for the cherished Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London.
“The atmosphere was electric coming out into the stadium – like we could take over the world with our beds!” said Rachel Dobbin, a speech and language therapist from London who performed as a nurse in the ceremony.
“I want to do it again, even in spite of all the rainy rehearsals!”
Giant representations of famous villains from English literature, including J.M. Barrie’s Captain Hook, J.K. Rowling’s Voldemort and Ian Fleming’s Childcatcher, rose from their beds.
They were quickly vanquished by dozens of Mary Poppins characters descending from cables criss-crossing the stadium roof, carrying brightly illuminated umbrellas.
Comedian Rowan Atkinson, adopting the globally recognised character of mischievous Mr. Bean, brought the house down as he joined the London Symphony Orchestra playing a single note throughout the score to Olympic film “Chariots of Fire”.
The final act, starring hundreds of young nightclubbing dancers, was a breathless journey through popular British culture over the last five decades, featuring music from everyone from the Sex Pistols to Queen and the Jam to the Who.
Soccer player and A-list celebrity David Beckham played a cameo role, filmed steering a boat that sped along the River Thames with the Olympic torch on board.
At one end of the stadium stands a grassy knoll topped by a tree and at the other end the 23-tonne bell, which Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s winner of this year’s Tour de France, rang to kick off proceedings.
In front of each is a “mosh pit” of people conjuring the spirit of the Glastonbury music festival and Last Night of the Proms classical concert.
Among the crowd were celebrities, ordinary Londoners, visitors from abroad and dignitaries including U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama as well as presidents, prime ministers and European royalty.
Boyle’s colourful and sometimes chaotic vision aimed to create a kaleidoscope of what it means to be British, an approach that could appeal to the home audience but leave many foreign viewers scratching their heads at times.
The Olympic cauldron is lit. (AP Photo)
Boyle paid tribute to the 10,000 volunteers, cast and crew taking part in the ceremony.
“We hope the feeling of the show is a celebration of generosity,” he said. “There’s no better expression of that than these volunteers.”
Solving the last remaining riddle of the opening ceremony, seven teenagers were given the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron in the symbolic start to the 2012 London Games.
The young athletes, each nominated by a renowned British Olympian, lit a single tiny flame each within a copper petal on the ground, which triggered the ignition of more than 200 petals. The petals then rose towards each other to form one flame, described as a flame of unity.
The lighting of the cauldron holds huge symbolism within the opening ceremony as the flame burns above the stadium for the duration of the Games.
The arrival of the flickering torch into the darkened stadium carried by five-times Olympic champion Steve Redgrave was greeted by a huge roar, bringing to an end a 70-day, 8,000-mile journey around some of the most famous landmarks in Britain where it was cheered on by millions of people.
It had earlier been driven up the Thames in a speed boat by former England soccer captain David Beckham.
The seven chosen youngsters were Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckitt, Desiree Henry, Katie Kirk, Cameron MacRitchie, Aidan Reynolds and Adelle Tracey, aged between 16 and 19.
The choice of teenagers for the final stage marks a change from recent Games where some of the world’s most famous athletes have carried out the lighting.
Chinese gymnast Li Ning lit the cauldron in Beijing in 2008. Raised into the air by wires, he ran around the rim of the stadium roof before lighting a wick which carried the flame to the cauldron.
Windsurfer Nikolaos Kaklamanakis lit the cauldron in Athens in 2004, 400-metre runner Cathy Freeman walked through a circular pool of water to light it in Sydney in 2000 and boxer Muhammad Ali did the honours in Atlanta in 1996.
© 2012 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
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