The one thing that nations all over the world can agree on is that China kicked all of our asses with its opening ceremony to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. This year, London will take a shot at erasing the image of more than 15,000 synchronized drummers, martial artists, and dancers from our collective consciousness with the help of film director Danny Boyle, known for his edgy and quintessentially British films, including Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire. We don’t doubt that the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics will be a visual and aural feast, but is that all these ceremonies are about, i.e. which country can set off the most fireworks? Let’s take a look at some moments from past Olympic opening ceremonies where humanity managed to outshine the spectacle.
- Athlete’s Oath and Olympic flag debut at the Antwerp, Belgium 1920 Olympics:
The 1920 Summer Games took place in Belgium in the aftermath of the first World War. The defeated Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Turkey, were not invited to participate in the games. The opening ceremony introduced for the first time the Athlete’s Oath — in which a competitor from the host country, speaking for all the participating athletes, swears to respect and abide by the games rules — and the Olympic flag, with five interlocked rings and whose six colors appeared on all of the national flags of the world at that time.
- Baby Hiroshima lights the flame at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics:
In the opening ceremony for the 1964 Summer Games, the host country of Japan wanted to show the world it had fully recovered since World War II and become a peaceful nation. Twenty-year-old athlete Yoshinori Sakai, born in the city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the city was hit by an atomic bomb earning him the nickname Baby Hiroshima, was chosen to light the Olympic flame. This symbolic gesture and Tokyo’s hosting of the Games improved Japan’s image worldwide.
- Muhammad Ali lights the flame at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics:
The Centennial Olympic Park bombing by a right-wing zealot nearly brought the 1996 Atlanta Games to a halt. But what people remember more than that tragic incident is heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali, who by that time was in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease, lighting the Olympic flame. There’s some speculation that Ali will somehow be a part of this year’s opening ceremony, but nothing from either Boyle or Ali’s camp has confirmed this one way or another.
- North and South Korea athletes walk together at Sydney 2000 Olympics:
Athletes from the estranged and technically at-war countries of North and South Korea chose to walk together during the opening ceremony for the 2000 games in Sydney, dressed in the same uniform and behind a single unification flag. It’s doubtful the two countries will march together today, as the relationship between the two countries has become more strained in the past decade. The year 2000 also marked the 100th anniversary of the participation of women in the Games. The Olympic flame was lit by Aboriginal sprinter Cathy Freeman, who went on the win a gold medal and become the second Australian Aboriginal Olympic champion in history.
- Bjork performs at the Athens 2004 Olympics:
At the 2004 Games, Icelandic singer Bjork performed “Oceania,” a song she composed especially for the opening ceremony, while her dress slowly unfurled to reveal a 10,000 square foot map of the world. The song’s lyrics (“Little ones / My sons and my daughters / Your sweat is salty / I am why”) written from the point of view of the, um, ocean, were almost indecipherable thanks to Bjork’s unique accent and diction. But her stage presence was and still is undeniable, and during this televised performance, jaws dropped around the world.
- In your face, North Korea! The Beijing 2008 Olympics Games opening ceremony blows everyone away:
No question the opening ceremony for the Beijing Summer Olympic games, which included more than 15,000 individual performers, was an impressive, even transcendent performance. In interviews leading up to the ceremony, Olympic Games director Zhang Yimou declared North Korea “No. 1 in the world when it comes to uniformity” and made it clear he didn’t think Western nations could hold a candle to the level of training and discipline his spectacle demanded. No doubt a little thing like human rights can get in the way when it comes to getting 2,008 drummers to play precisely in unison. After seeing the impeccable Beijing performance, we have our doubts that North Korea could’ve done it better. London, the ball is definitely in your court.