London's Opening Ceremony
July 27, 2012 -- London is about to officially launch the 2012 Summer Olympic Games with an opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium.
Entitled "Isles of Wonder," the event will transform the stadium into the British countryside. It will also feature the traditional parade of some 10,000 athletes representing more than 200 nations this year.
Beyond the theme, the parade and a leaked playlist, few details have emerged about the ceremony. Acclaimed film directors Danny Boyle and Stephen Daldry have been tasked with planning the occasion this year.
The opening ceremony is possibly the single most watched event of any Olympics, potentially drawing in billions of viewers worldwide. That certainly puts more pressure on the organizers, but can make them all the more memorable for audiences.
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Hailed as the most spectacular opening of any Olympics, the opening ceremonies in Beijing in 2008 cost the host nation $100 million to orchestrate. And based on the reviews, it was worth every yuan.
The opening ceremonies included a choreographed countdown to the start of the games from 2,008 drummers, an onslaught of fireworks, colorful dancers surrounding a giant illuminated globe, elaborate costumes, martial artists and much more. The ceremony featured some 14,000 participants and took more than a year of preparation work.
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The Olympic Games were awarded to Germany before Adolph Hitler came to power. And while Hitler was not a big sports fan, his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, convinced him the festivities could be exploited to advance the Nazi cause.
The Nazi administration spent 42 million Reichmarks building an impressive 325-acre Olympics sports complex located about five miles west of Berlin.
Controversy arose when Germany decided not to allow non-Aryans from competing on their team. To avoid massive boycotts and mounting international pressure, the Nazis made a token gesture by allowing a part-Jewish athlete, Helene Mayer, back on their Olympic team.
The most beloved emblems of the modern Olympics have a link to the Berlin games.
"The torch relay is so ingrained in the modern choreography that most people today assume it was a revival of a pagan tradition -- unaware that it was actually concocted for Hitler’s Games in Berlin," author Tony Perrottet writes in his book, "The Naked Olympics."
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Directed by choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Sydney drew international praise for its use of sight and sound to evoke the history and mythology of the host nation.
Beyond the view of American audiences, however, the ceremony also included nudity. An actress representing a Minoan princess appeared topless during the event, compelling censors at NBC, the network broadcasting the games in the United States, to pixelate her breasts. Actors dressed as Greek statues also appeared to be naked. In this case, NBC compensated by only filming them from the waist up.
The ceremony drew a small number of indecency complaints, leading the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to an investigation of the broadcast.
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The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta featured a former Olympian no one had expected to see carrying the Olympic torch: Muhammad Ali.
Ali had competed in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and won a gold medal in the light heavyweight boxing division. According to Ali's biography, in a fit of anger following a dispute with a "whites-only" restaurant, he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River.
Ali was present at the opening ceremonies to light the Olympic torch. He also received a replacement medal during the games.
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Chosen to host the 1992 Summer Games, Barcelona used its opening ceremony to show off the city's flair for the dramatic.
Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo lit an arrow using the Olympic flame brought to the stadium at the end of the torch relay. He then fired the arrow through the night sky and into a cauldron to light a giant Olympic torch, seemingly igniting it, to the delight of the crowd.
Although Rebollo's arrow appeared to hit its target, he in fact fired well beyond the stadium to avoid injuring onlookers, according to BBC News. The cauldron was actually lit via remote control.
The 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul got the games off to a bit of a false start during the opening ceremony.
Celebrating the end of widespread boycotts that plagued the games throughout the Cold War, the ceremony's organizers decided to release doves in conjunction with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron as a demonstration of unity.
Several birds ended up getting caught in the fire, essentially sending the event's peace symbol up in flames.
Los Angeles 1984
Eager to show up the Soviet Union, who hosted the previous Olympics, the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles featured something that no Olympics has before or since: a man flying a jet pack.
The opening ceremony was praised for the high production values the organizers had introduced to the live show. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron by former athlete Rafer Johnson, which led a flame through the five rings of the Olympic logo, capped the event.
The games also proved to be a massive financial success and a boon to the city of Los Angeles.
Almost 20 years after the end of World War II, Tokyo was selected to be the site of the 18th Olympiad. With only two decades separating Japan from the war, the country used its opening ceremony to show that the nation was still recovering from its battle scars but eager for peace.
On Oct. 10, 1964, Yoshinori Sakai completed the final stretch of the Olympic torch relay and lit the cauldron, marking the start of the games. Sakai was chosen because he had been born in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the same day an atomic bomb struck that city.
The 1920 Olympic in Antwerp, Belgium, marked the first games since the end of World War I. Germany, Austria and other defeated nations were not invited to participate in the games, but the Belgian hosts still wanted to make unity a central theme of the event.
At the opening ceremony of the VII Olympiad, the Olympic Flag, featuring rings of five colors derived from the flags of every nation in the world, flew for the first time. Once passed down at the end of closing ceremonies of every Olympics, the original Olympic flag, known as the Antwerp flag, now lives in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
FULL COVERAGE: The London Olympics