Up-and-coming track and field athletes involved in lighting the London 2012 Olympic flame
In a burst of fire, music, dancing and farm animals the people of Great Britain opened their arms to welcome the world to the London 2012 Olympic Games, and begin a journey that will lead to more than 300 athletes achieving their ultimate dream – an Olympic gold medal.
In East London’s new Olympic Stadium, 15,000 performers – including more than 7500 volunteers – came together as one to entertain 80,000 spectators and dignitaries and an estimated worldwide television audience of four billion.
Film director Danny Boyle, the ceremony’s artistic director, said in the lead-up to the Games that he wanted to tell the story of a country moving on from its agricultural and industrial legacy, while making a ceremony for all. He succeeded by taking the exact spot where any number of athletics world records might be broken and turning it into a scene that celebrated everything British.
The ceremony began with a countdown, then the striking of a 27 tonne ‘Olympic bell’ inscribed with words from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises” as children’s voices reflected that with a culturally iconic song from each of the home nations.
Spectators who were lucky to acquire a ticket for the extravaganza had entered to see an Olympic athletics arena that had been turned into a historic British village, replete with green fields, a farmhouse with accompanying animals, and even a brook that trickled its way into a churning water wheel.
But, just minutes after the countdown and to the beat of almost 1000 drums, the scene was transformed by the performers from an idyllic green countryside meadow to a dark representation of industrialised Britain – with smoke stacks, weaving looms and all manner of machinery – leaving spectators in no doubt about Britain’s former industrial strength.
They saw an example of Britain’s historical manufacturing might in the pouring of a mock molten metal Olympic ring, which rose into the air to combine with four others to form the Olympic symbol. Fire then rained down from the five suspended rings, sparking the first, but not last, roar from the excited crowd.
With the combined sweep of many brooms, the stage was cleaned of the industrial revolution and made ready for the entrance of James Bond and someone dressed as the Queen, who both parachuted to the ground from a helicopter hovering above.
Other highlights of the ceremony included an homage to the NHS, author JK Rowling reading a passage from JM Barrie’s classic Peter Pan, and comedian Rowan Atkinson providing light entertainment as part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Vangelis’ inspired piece composed for Chariots of Fire.
As is customary at the Olympic Games, competitors and officials from Greece began the athletes’ parade, followed by team members from all 204 NOCs competing at the Games.
The loudest cheer was reserved for the last team to enter, the gold and white-clad British heroes who were led by Edinburgh’s four-time track cycling Olympic gold medallist and flag bearer, Chris Hoy.
As a former athlete and now administrator, LOCOG chair Sebastian Coe gave a unique perspective after all the athletes had entered the stadium. “In every Olympic sport there is all that matters in life,” said Coe. “London 2012 will inspire a generation.”
That has been the slogan of the London 2012 Games and the theme was carried right through to the lighting of the Olympic flame – a part of the ceremony that had been kept a top secret by all involved.
After a journey that took in more than 1000 towns and cities around Great Britain and via 8000 sets of hands, footballer David Beckham delivered the torch by speedboat along the Thames, passing it on to five-time Olympic rowing gold medallist Steve Redgrave who was waiting for it outside the stadium.
The torch then passed through the hands of seven young athletes on its way to the cauldron. The torchbearers were nominated by a group of British sporting legends that included Daley Thompson, Mary Peters and Kelly Holmes.
Unexpectedly, the young athletes – rather than an Olympic legend – had the ultimate honour of lighting the cauldron. Of the seven young sportspeople, four of them were track and field athletes – world youth 200m champion Desiree Henry, European junior 400m finalist Katie Kirk, 2:03 junior 800m runner Adelle Tracey and English Schools javelin silver medallist Aidan Reynolds.
Paul McCartney then stepped to the stage to bring the opening ceremony to an end, singing the classic Beatles tune Hey Jude, with the crowd joining in enthusiastically on behalf of viewers across the planet.
It was a reminder to all that the Olympic Games are the world’s one truly global event.