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Off and running!
By Alan Harris
LONDON – With quintessential British flair and pageantry, the capital last night welcomed just over 200 nations to the Olympic Park in Stratford as the curtains were raised on the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
Barbados’ flag was carried by former world champion Ryan Brathwaite as the small contingent from the Caribbean danced and waved energetically during the Parade of Nations.
The Games were officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who is also celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this year, the 60th year of her reign.
A highlight of the night came when the Queen ‘arrived’ at the stadium in the most astonishing of fashions, portrayed to be jumping out of a helicopter with movie character James Bond in tow. She then, miraculously, appeared in the stadium to a rousing reception, the British public obviously enjoying her relaxed sense of humour.
Queen Elizabeth II also opened the Montreal Games of 1976, while the London Games of 1948 were opened by her father, King George VI. London also played host to the Games in 1908, making it the first city in history to host the Games three times.
“In just a few moments, the Olympic Games will officially return to London for the third time, setting an unmatched record for hosting the Games that spans more than a century,” said Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, who also expressed his delight that for the first time in the modern Olympic era all competing nations would be represented by female athletes.
“Thank you, London, for welcoming the world to this diverse, vibrant, cosmopolitan city yet again. In a sense, the Olympic Games are coming home tonight. This great, sports-loving country is widely recognised as the birthplace of modern sport,” added Rogge.
Sebastien Coe, Chairman of London 2012, was also in high spirits.
“I have never been so proud to be British and to be part of the Olympic Movement as I am on this day, at this moment,” said the two-time Olympic gold medalist.
“The Olympics brings together the people of the world in harmony and friendship and peace to celebrate what is best about mankind. To everyone in this stadium attending our Opening Ceremony, to every athlete waiting, ready, prepared to take part in these Games, to everyone in every city and village in the world watching as we begin – welcome to London. Welcome to the 2012 Olympic Games!”
The spectacular culmination to Danny Boyle’s £27 million Opening Ceremony – the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron – was the most closely guarded secret of the night.And it was revealed well after midnight.
The Olympic Flame was carried into the stadium by Sir Steve Redgrave, who had received the flame from footballers David Beckham and Jade Bailey after they brought it to the stadium via speedboat on the River Thames.
Redgrave, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, was one of seven British Olympians honoured during last night’s ceremony. The others were Lynne Davies, who captained the British Olympic team in 1980 and 1984; Duncan Goodhew, who won swimming gold in 1980; Dame Kelly Holmes, who won gold at 800m and 1500m in 2004; Dame Mary Peters, who won gold in the pentathlon in 1972; Shirley Robertson, who won gold for sailing on 2000; and Daley Thompson, the decathlon champion of 1980 and 1984.
Each of them in turn nominated a young British athlete to light the Olympic Cauldron, which revealed itself from beneath the field of play in the centre of the stadium.
The seven Young Torchbearers were: Callum Airlie, 17, a sailor; Jordan Duckitt, 18, a “young ambassador” for London 2012; Desiree Henry, a 16-year-old sprinter; Katie Kirk, 18, a junior European champion sprinter; Cameron Ritchie, 19, a rower; Aidan Reynolds, 18, a javelin-thrower; and Adelle Tracey, 19, a middle-distance runner.
The seven young athletes took the flame from Redgrave and passed it to one another as they ran around the stadium.
The cauldron, which was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, caught the ire of some as it will not been seen by the general public as it remains inside the stadium for the next week.
Before the cauldron was lit, the Olympic Flag was carried into the stadium by people who were chosen because they embody the values of the Olympic Movement.
They included Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence; Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend; composer Daniel Barenboim; Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon; Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee; distance runner Haile Gebrselassie; and civil rights activist Shami Chakrabati.
Display of diversity
Watched by a worldwide television audience estimated to be in the billions, Boyle’s production, entitled ‘Isles of Wonder’, seamlessly displayed the rich – and very diverse – culture of the United Kingdom through exquisite demonstrations of theatre, dance and song.
Incredible visual effects, including pyrotechnics and 3D lasers, wowed the 80 000 who packed the Olympic Stadium as they enjoyed the best in British talent past and present. The cast for last night’s presentation – which included real farm animals such as horses, cows and geese – numbered around 7 000.
The stage, measuring 15 000 square metres – or 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools – covered the entire field of play and was one of the largest ever used in an Olympic production. It went through many phases, initially morphing from a rolling British countryside complete with meadows, fields and rivers, to an industrial landscape with iron donkeys and seven coal chimneys raised from the ground with artificial smoke billowing out of the top, representing the age of industry.
Sir Chris Hoy earned the biggest reception of the night as he emerged as Britain’s flag bearer to the strings of David Bowie’s Hero.
Earlier, Tour de France hero Bradley Wiggins had the honour of chiming the Olympic Bell, the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world, which signalled the start of the Opening Ceremony.