By Jason Iannone
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The 2014 Winter Olympics are officially so close, ashes from the Torch might wind up your nose if you take a deep breath. Millions upon millions of people are excited for the Games, but we’re not here to talk about them. You can do that just about anywhere.
No, we’re here to discuss another, equally important aspect of the Games – the Opening Ceremonies. Filled with patriotism, symbolism and humanism, and hopefully devoid of racism, sexism or other social schism, the Opening Ceremonies are an artistic wonder… ism.
We took the -ism thing too far, didn’t we? No matter, moving on. Here are five of our favorite Opening Ceremonies from Olympics past, both Summer and Winter. We look back on each and every one of these with the fondest of memories… isms.
Sorry. Couldn’t resist. We’ll stop now.
5. The First Winter Ceremony (Chamonix 1924)
Much like how we look back fondly on our first relationship even if everything about it was awkward and terrible, the first Winter Olympics Ceremony gets our attention mainly due to being, well, first. On its own, it wasn’t much – there was no torch, only 16 countries and not much pageantry to speak of. But a bunch of athletes did stage an unplanned race around the Olympic rink after the Games officially opened, which sounds pretty damn cool. Too bad it took our fair species another 80 years to figure out how to make YouTube.
4. All About Canada (Vancouver 2010)
Fast-forward to the Ceremony at the most recent Winter Games, and you saw an amazing display of theatrics and showmanship, as well as national pride. The theme was pretty much “Canada is cool,” so luckily for them the event took place in Canada. The Ceremony involved the lighting of the Torch after the longest Relay ever (12,000 torchbearers over 114 days and two continents), and a snowboarder shooting through a giant set of Olympic rings.
3. Torch Bearer Born on the Day of Hiroshima (Tokyo 1964)
Moving on to the warm summer days, the 1964 Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo, Japan. Crazy theatrics didn’t really become a thing in the Olympics until 1980 or so, but Tokyo more than got the ball rolling, with fireworks, balloons and sky-written Olympic rings, among other innovations.
But perhaps the most memorable moment of these ceremonies was the lighting of the Torch. The person who lit it wasn’t a movie star, a musician or a star athlete. He was Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 – the day that city was leveled by an atomic bomb. His lighting of the Torch was perhaps the ultimate symbol of Japanese survival and perseverance after almost 20 years of post-Armageddon rebuilding.
2. Bjork Does Bjorky Things (Athens 2004)
For the return of the Olympics to its original home, Athens, Greece, its organizers went all out. There was an elaborate artistic piece dedicated to the ancient Greek Gods who must be so lonely lately, now that nobody believes in them. Alexander the Great made an appearance, as did a centaur.
And then came the strangest sight of them all – pop star Bjork, who’s usually the strangest sight of the day anyhow. While premiering her song “Oceania,” she did what comes naturally for her. Namely, she wore a gown with a 100-foot tail that, when completely unwrapped, unveiled the map of the world. Shockingly, considering the source, that world was not Mars.
1. The Most British Thing in History (London 2012)
At the heart of most every opening ceremony is the basic theme, “Our country is awesome.” When London opened up the 2012 Summer Games, they fine-tuned the message a tad to “Our country is awesome, and incredibly weird.” So of course it’s tops on our list.
We’re honestly not sure which part of the ceremony was stranger – the short film featuring James Bond and Queen Elizabeth that culminated in the two propelling from a live helicopter into the Olympic Stadium (sadly, the Queen was played by a stunt double), or Rowan “Mr. Bean” Atkinson joining the London Symphony Orchestra right before his daydream about starring in Chariots of Fire appeared on the big screen.
We’ll just nominate both (though if Atkinson had showed up with a turkey on his head, he would’ve taken first place easily). Maybe Russia has been inspired to produce something even weirder on February 7.