Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies: Did Vancouver 2010 Try to Raise the Bar Too High?

Article excerpt

A number of firsts marked the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, including:

* more live television coverage than any previous Winter Olympics with an estimated global audience of more than a billion people;

* the most medal events (86) in a Winter Games;

* the largest city ever to host a Winter Olympics; and

* the Canadians winning the most gold medals (14) of any host country for a Winter Games.

And, although IOC President Jacques Rogge did not go so far as to label the Vancouver Games the best ever--in either the summer or winter version--he did give it a superlative accolade.

   The enthusiasm in Vancouver for the 2010 Games is unparalleled to
   that of any other host city ... I have never seen a city embrace a
   Games like Vancouver. The athletes are happy, excellent villages,
   the transportation system worked and we are absolutely thrilled
   with the television audiences. (1)

This paper provides an overview of the history of Winter Olympic Games opening ceremonies from Chamonix in 1924 up to the Vancouver 2010 version. The growth in importance and magnitude of this introductory event of the Olympic program is documented and discussed. Both the highlights and lowlights of the Vancouver opening ceremony are examined in order to provide an objective analysis of this event from a local, national and international perspective. Comparisons are also made between opening ceremonies in Winter and Summer Games to help demonstrate how important the event that signifies the start of an Olympic Games has become. Finally, there is a discussion on the pros and cons of viewing the opening ceremony live versus watching it on television.

Historical Overview of Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremonies: 'Mimicking the Summer Olympics'

Since the inception of the modern Olympic Games in 1896, there have been official opening and closing ceremonies in both the Summer and Winter Games. With the Summer Games starting some 28 years before the Winter Games, the latter version naturally inherited the opening ceremony protocol from its older summer version. The Olympic Charter clearly spells out what needs to occur from an official viewpoint in the content and the IOC reserves the right to approve the overall program and whatever variations might occur in the traditional ceremonial features. Over the years since the first 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, there have been various alterations to the program (see Table 1).

There has always been an official opening conducted by the Head of State or a nominated replacement from the host Olympic nation. For example, in 1936 it was done by Adolf Hitler, in 1976 in Montreal it was by Queen Elizabeth II, in 1996 in Atlanta it was by US President Bill Clinton, and in Vancouver it was by the Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean. It is a tradition later in the official proceedings at every opening ceremony for both the President of the IOC and the head of the local OCOG (Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) to provide opening remarks about the Games. (2)

Another official component within the opening ceremony, which began in the 1920 Antwerp Games, is the Olympic Oath by an athlete. An Olympic Oath for Officials began at the 1972 Munich Games. A major component of the opening ceremony--usually consuming a significant amount of time--is the Parade of Athletes, highlighted by Greece as the first nation out and the host nation at the end. This practice has been a mainstay of the modern Olympic Games since the 1908 London Games when athletes also wore national uniforms for the first time. Interestingly, at the first Winter Games in 1924 athletes paraded by sport not by country but they eventually adopted the parade protocol by entering as national teams. The release of doves first took place at the 1920 Summer Games in Antwerp but it wasn't until the 1960 Squaw Valley Games that this practice was adopted in the Winter Games, though several Winter Games did not include this as it was too cold for the birds. …