The Games return to Greece with a magical opening ceremony
ATHENS – Greece surprised the world on Friday presenting a magical Olympic opening ceremony, in front of 72,000 spectators and 4 billion viewers around the globe. With five rings ablaze in the middle of a manmade sea, the Olympics returned to its birthplace Friday in an epic homecoming heralded by a pounding heartbeat, a mythological centaur and an array of Greek gods followed by the biggest parade of nations in the games’ history.
”The Olympic Games: Welcome back to Greece!” an announcer cried to kick off the opening ceremony, which culminated with the Greek windsurfing champion from the 1996 Games, Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, lighting the cauldron at the end of a slender 102-foot arm that rose slowly over one end of the stadium.
It was a moment many doubted Greek organizers could pull off, after years of worrisome delays and constant pressure to bolster the most expensive security network ever at an Olympics, reported a couple of hours later the Associated Press, pointing out that the ceremony also closed an important circle in sports, from the games’ innocent rebirth in 1896 to the latest gathering of the world’s greatest athletes under 202 flags in an age beset by fears of terrorism and instability.
”Greece is standing before you. We are ready. … We have waited long for this moment,” said the games’ chief organizer, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, standing under a model of an olive tree.
“Together we are writing a new and beautiful chapter in Games history. Tonight history is made. Tonight with you and because of you. We’ve waited very long for this moment. Let us enjoy and celebrate it, together with our guests, athletes and visitors,” she said.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge urged athletes to ”show us that sport unites by overriding national, political, religious and language barriers.”
”We need peace, we need tolerance, we need brotherhood,” he said.
Rogge thanked Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and the Athens 2004 team as well as Greek public authorities “who have created an urban legacy that has transformed Athens.” He also thanked the volunteers and all those who have supported the Olympic Games.
Similar were the comments of Reuters. Michelle Cambas reported from Athens that “Greek pride has bounced back with a vengeance after a spectacular Olympics homecoming ceremony eclipsed the shadow of a drugs probe involving Greece’s top two athletes – both former Olympic medal winners. Friday night’s opening ceremony was “magical”, a “triumph” and a “dream” Greek newspapers declared on their front pages about the three-hour pageant which went off without a glitch”.
At dusk, a countdown video filled the screen at the Olympic Stadium. The numbers clicked down from 28: one second for each of the games scheduled since the first modern Olympiad in an all-marble arena in central Athens. Each tick of the clock was accompanied by the amplified sound of a human heartbeat. Then, with a blast of fireworks around the stadium roof, the ceremony was fully under way. Minutes later, the five Olympic rings were ablaze.
The spectacle of the opening ceremony celebrated Greek history, culture and civilization.
After the burning Olympic flames subsided, a boy on a replica of a ship sailed into the arena, waving a small Greek flag. Then the centaur — the mythological half-man, half-horse — waded into the water and tossed a spear of light representing a javelin. From the center of the stadium rose a statue representing an ancient form from Greece’s Cyclades islands. The form broke apart to reveal other figures from Greek history.
The ancient god of love, Eros, flew above two lovers dancing and playing in the water. Then Eros hovered over a procession of figures from Greek history – from ancient vase paintings to a tribute to the Greek shepherd, Spiros Louis, who won the first Olympic marathon.
”The great moment has come!” cried the announcer in the stadium. Moments later, the parade of nations began with the appearance of Greek weightlifter Pyrros Dimas, who is seeking his fourth consecutive gold medal at the games. Behind him more than 10,500 athletes streamed into the stadium.
Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star showed his surprise of the Greek hospitality and the warm welcome the American athletes received at the stadium.
“Where were the boos? The whistles of disapproval? The loud shrieks of protest? Weren’t the Americans supposed to be greeted by a terrible show of anti-American sentiment as they marched in Friday’s Opening Ceremonies? Well, here’s what members of the American delegation heard as they followed women’s basketball star Dawn Staley into the shimmering Olympic Stadium: Cheers. Lots of them”, he wrote in his column.
Bob Costas commented on NBC that “Greeks have disagreed with American foreign policy, “past and present,” but make a distinction between the government and the people”.
Foreign correspondents told ANA that ‘Greece enchanted the world’ during Olympic Games opening ceremony
“Athens is the flame which lit up the world,” said John Mihafey, Reuter’s chief editor of the sports department in London. “I feel privileged to be experiencing and attending the Athens Olympic Games today,” he added.
“This was one of the best opening ceremonies I have ever watched,” said Tomas Hann, a sports reporter of the German newspaper “Suddeutsche Zeitung.”
The BBC’s correspondent in Stockholm, Elizabeth Sotiriadou, said on her part “I was brought up in Sweden by Greek parents, but today I feel proud more than ever that I am Greek.”
Adam Hirshfield, the sports correspondent of the website of “USA Today” said of the opening ceremony “it was something authentic. It was something very Greek. It was something very beautiful.”
The media referred to security measures, which they described as “unprecedented” for a sports event and according to a police spokesman stringent measures are in force along the motor-way that links western Europe with Greece to avert any possible terrorist attack during the Games.
New York Times wrote on Saturday about the security issue:
“Western intelligence officials said they had no evidence of a specific terrorist threat. None of the recent arrests in Pakistan, for example, including those that resulted in the terrorist alert in the United States, have produced any information that Al Qaeda was planning attacks on the Olympics, the intelligence officials said.
The first test of the security shield came as more than 70,000 people attended the parade of athletes in the main Olympic stadium, passing first through a bank of metal detectors before watching a dramatic re-enactment of the birth of the Games 2,780 years ago in Olympia. The first modern Games were here in 1896.
Some 100 heads of state and other dignitaries were in Athens for the customary extravaganza that opens the Olympics, including former President George Bush and the twin daughters of the current president”.
Greek security forces have prepared for some 200 possible situations, “from the simplest incident to World War III,” said Col. Eleftherios Ikonomou, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Order, which controls the national police and coast guard.
In another article, titled “On Tape, Greek Ceremony Was a Little Lost in Translation”, New York Times criticize NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremony.
“In the translation from live performance to taped prime-time television program on NBC, some grandeur was inevitably lost. Cameras tend to break up the visual elements, creating a different experience from the one in the stadium. The aural sense of being in a stadium exploding in sound was lost on the screen. And the joy of the people in the stands was ignored by NBC and the world feed … A pyrotechnic comet made a spectacular entrance to ignite the five Olympic rings in the stadium’s man-made lake, but much too soon, NBC cut to commercials from Home Depot and Visa. And within the space of one break, all the water in the stadium disappeared…»
“We’ve now shared our history with more than four billion people around the world; we’ve given athletes a remarkable start to their Athens Olympic Games,” Athens 2004 Organising Committee (ATHOC) President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki told reporters, herself in the spotlight during a handful of segments at the Opening Ceremony.
On his part, the chief creative director of the Opening Ceremony, Dimitris Papaioannou, said the entire ceremony – portions of which were leaked to the press over the past few weeks – said “love” and showcasing Greek history through art guided the creative process from the very beginning of planning. “This is the only way we approached our history in order to design a concept; a visual and emotional journey for this ceremony. The only thing we wanted to avoid was the academic, nostalgic approach; we focused on art to tell our story,” he said.
**** Combined News Sources.