The Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games is the most watched program in the world with an estimated audience of between three to four billion people. If you plan to be one of them, here are 10 things to watch for – and dish about – Friday night.
1. FAMOUS FACES:
Inside the stadium close to 100.000 athletes and fans will be in attendance, including a great many heads of state and A-list celebrities. Here are some possible surprises to look for:
- President Barack Obama: Michelle Obama will be in the VIP section with Sasha and Malia, but whether President Obama will make a surprise appearance is still up in the air.
- Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Recent reports say Ahmadinejad has had a change of heart and has decided to attend to the games. But last February he threatened a boycott, accusing the London Organizer of designing a logo for the XXX Olympiad that reads “Zion.”
- Russian President Vladimir Putin: The official Russian delegation will be led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, but look for Putin to surface as an “in your face” gesture to British Members of Parliament after a failed vote that attempted to refuse him a visa. Parliament took the vote as a slap-down to Putin over Russia’s refusal to extradite a suspect in the James-Bond-worthy poisoning of former KGB Alexander Litvinenko.
- King Mswati Swaziland: It’s always fun to see how many of his 13 wives King Mswati will bring along.
2. PEPSI T-SHIRTS & CONTRABAND NIKES:
Coca-Cola is an official sponsor of the Olympics and their stringent sponsorship agreement says anyone wearing a competing brand’s logo will not be admitted to any Olympic venue. Although Adidas is also a sponsor, spectators wearing Nikes seem to be safe, but performers in the opening ceremonies have been told they have to wear unbranded or Adidas sneakers.
3. DANNY BOYLE’S VISION:
. The entertainment portion of the opening ceremonies is the creation of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting director Danny Boyle. I am one of those fans who like the surprise, but if you are the kind of person who sneaks a peek at your Christmas gifts and then wraps the box back up, the UK Telegraph has ferreted out the details of the show. For many weeks the buzz was about a “Frankenstein” theme, though now that appears to have been a case of purposeful misdirection. In recent days the reports have changed to a comparison to Shakespeare’s The Tempest
If you’re the kind of person who gets misty eyed at Hallmark commercials, have a box of tissues ready. Danny Boyle has confessed his goal is get control of your emotions. He told Vogue: “It’s a challenge, of course, because it can easily be just a cold spectacle – awe-inspiring but not necessarily of the heart – and we want the ceremony to have a visceral effect on the people, for it to be a collective experience..”
Watch for Paul McCartney to close the show.
4. THE SCHOOL KIDS OF LONDON:
The Parade of Nations is always the heart of the opening ceremonies. The teams march into the Olympic stadium in alphabetical order, except for Greece, the originators of the Olympics, which goes first, and the United Kingdom, the host country which goes last. Bob Costas does an amazing play by play of every back-story of every country. If my hands weren’t so busy snacking I would take notes. This year as they approach the stadium the teams will be welcomed by 2000 school children from 250 elementary school holding lanterns and banners. Each school has been paired with a participating country, with the mission to cheer on those athletes as surrogates for their fans at home. Most of the schools turned the experience into a geography lesson, with the students delving into what life is like at home for the athletes they have been assigned to cheer.
5. RAINBOW FLAGS AND SCRUNCHIES:
There has been an effort by some British LGBT activists to encourage gay athletes to come out during the Olympics, and for gays from countries that would face discrimination back home in their own countries to ask for asylum in the UK. The first sign of any such intentions could be a rainbow flag carried by an athlete during the parade of nations. Look also for straight athletes who are sympathetic to the gay agenda to be displaying the rainbow symbol in other ways, following the inspiration of English tennis player Laura Robson. Laura recently made a statement by wearing a rainbow colored ponytail scrunchie during her match at the tennis arena named for Australian tennis great Margaret Court, who has notoriously made some particularly venomous remarks against marriage equality.
6. THE FLAG BEARERS:
Which Olympian is given the honor of carrying their country’s flag is always an interesting aspect of the opening ceremonies. This year Australia is engaged in a war of the sexes, about whether a man or woman should have the honor. If Nick Green, the Australian Chef De Mission chooses a woman, there is a good chance the honor will go to Natalie Cook, a beach volleyball player and out lesbian.
Americans tend to pick an underdog with an inspiring story to carry our flag, while the Russians tend to choose the man with the most impressive cache of medals from former Olympics- but maybe not this year. The gossip says a woman and first time Olympian, tennis star Maria Sharapova, has been given the honor, even though she has lived in Florida since 1994, and has rarely even visited Mother Russia. Reporting says Maria may have been named as thanks for her support of Chernobyl victims.
You’d have to live under a rock not to have heard about the uproar over the American Olympic team uniforms being made in China. What you may have missed is, internationally, we’ve become a laughingstock for our uniform’s beret. It is the subject of some serious trash-talk, so look for most of our contingent to ditch the headgear.
Uniform bashing is always great fun, and there will no doubt be any number of strange wardrobe choices to mock. (I hear the Jamaicans have yellow pants.) But my vote for worst dressed this year goes to the Russians. Make sure you watch for their red and white jackets that look like they were in the way when a pot of spaghetti sauce exploded.
8. THE TEAM FROM SAUDI ARABIA:
While we are talking clothing, watch to see what the Saudi women are wearing. For the first time ever, the Saudis have agreed to send two women to the games. At the special invitation of the IOC, Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, a judo competitor, and 800 meter runner Sarah Attar, will be marching with the men. Make that behind the men. Can’t wait to see what an Olympic hijab looks like.
9. THE TEAM FROM ISRAEL:
2012 marks forty years since the horrific terrorist attack against Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. The Israeli government officially asked the IOC for a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies in remembrance of the anniversary, but was refused. Look for Bob Costas to decide to take his own moment of silence as the Israeli delegation is announced.
10 THE LIGHTING OF THE CAULDRON:
The lighting of the Olympic cauldron is always the highlight of the evening and rumors abound about who will be given the honor this year and in what dazzling manner it will be accomplished. The announcement that the Spice Girls will reunite for the closing ceremonies has led to the speculation that David Beckham will do the honors, and that the price was getting his wife and the other “Spices” to agree to perform. Others think Britain will step outside the normal protocol of naming someone from the host country and ask Nelson Mandella.
I personally hope it’s Harry Potter. He’s an accomplished Quidditch athlete. He’s experienced with cauldrons. And he could ignite it with a flick of his magic wand while flying over it on his Nimbus 5000 Firebolt.
One thing for sure, the opening ceremonies will be chock full of a unique mixture of politics, entertainment and (hopefully) humanity at its best. I hope these tips add to your enjoyment of the evening. Remember Citius, Altius, Fortius is the motto for Olympic fans too!