Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies: Did Vancouver 2010 Try to Raise the Bar Too High?
Baka, Richard, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research
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. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics a number of doves were killed due to sitting on the cauldron when the Olympic flame was being lit. After overwhelming protests from animal lovers, the IOC determined that the release of doves should be symbolic, with each Games able to interpret and do this in a unique manner. (3)
A ceremonial feature which first appeared in the 1920 Antwerp Summer Olympics--the hoisting of the Olympic flag--is also a prominent feature of the opening ceremony, as is the singing of the Olympic anthem. The five Olympic rings symbol was first designed by Pierre de Coubertin in 1906. The flag was completed in 1914 and became a regular part of the official protocol in the opening ceremony at the first Olympics held in 1920, after the Games resumed following their hiatus during WW1. The playing of the Olympic anthem first took place at Athens in 1896 but a new anthem was introduced in Rome in 1960. (4) An emotional highlight of the opening for the local audience is the raising of the host nation's flag and the playing of the national anthem.
The Olympic flame became a feature of Olympic protocol starting at the 1928 Antwerp Games while the torch relay commenced with the 1936 Berlin Games. It was not until the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Olympics that the Winter Games adopted the Summer Games protocol of the lighting of the flame in Olympia, Greece. (5)
Over the years, there has also been a large artistic component within the opening ceremony, which obviously varies from Games to Games. This entertaining feature can best be summarised as a celebration of the history, culture and characteristics of the host city, host region and the host nation. It is traditionally characterised by a very large troupe of performers, with a mixture of singing, music, dancing and other types of active displays. Over time, this component has become more reliant on technological innovation, with the use of impressive light displays, interactive audience participation and amazing acrobatic and engineering displays.
While there have been many unique entertainment spectacles in previous Games, one would have to conclude there have been several unforgettable highlights: the rocket man who flew into the
LA Coliseum and US Air Force jets flying over the stadium spelling out a smoke message of "Welcome" at the 1984 Los Angeles Games; the technological highlights of the 2000 Sydney Games incorporating aboriginal and historical firsts in Australia's development; and the impressive performance by hundreds of drummers as well as over 10,000 performers at the 2008 Beijing Games.
In analysing Olympic ceremonies, James Riordan noted that the three major influences on ceremonial style and context have been politics, nationalism and commercialism. In particular, he concludes that the ceremonies have become "television spectacles" with attempts to produce the "Greatest Show on Earth" that is colourful and hi-tech. (6) While traditional Olympic ceremonial protocols are embedded in an entertaining and unique way within the overall opening ceremony of each Games, there has been a growing emphasis on producing an artistic component that will "wow" the world-wide television audience and those fortunate enough to attend the event in person. At the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics, the Walt Disney corporation was put in charge of the opening ceremony which shows the importance attached to coming up …
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Publication information: Article title: Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies: Did Vancouver 2010 Try to Raise the Bar Too High?. Contributors: Baka, Richard - Author. Journal title: Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research. Publication date: Annual 2010. Page number: 265+. © 2008 International Centre for Olympic Studies. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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