Switching Channels

Let the 2012 London Olympics begin!

Britain's Queen Elizabeth (C) looks on during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic …The Olympics happens only once every four years so I wanted to watch the opening ceremony which was scheduled at 9 p.m. Friday, July 27 (London time). That meant getting up at 4 a.m. last Saturday because the Philippines is ahead by seven hours. But I didn’t regret it.

Although the pageant was not as spectacular and as extravagant as the Beijing Olympics version in 2008, there were enough visual delights to keep me awake. (Online reports say Brits spent £27 million compared to £67 million spent in Beijing.) The understated production opener was staged by Danny Boyle who directed the Oscar’s Best Picture for 2009, “Slumdog Millionaire.” It was no surprise, therefore, that there were many film elements in the show.

For instance, the London Symphony Orchestra played the theme from another Oscar winner for Best Picture from the U.K., “Chariots of Fire.” And when clip from the movie was then shown, the familiar one with the track stars running on the beach, with one big difference, Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean, turned out to be of the runners.

One filmed segment had Daniel Craig fetching the Queen for a helicopter ride. Then there’s a live shot of two skydivers playing Daniel and Her Royal Highness jumping into the Olympic stadium after which the real Queen made her grand entrance in the same dress that she wore for the clip.

Like the Miss Universe pageant

When it was time for the athletes from the participating countries to enter the stadium, it felt like the Miss Universe pageant where beauties from different countries were presented in their native attire. At the Olympics, each delegation was led by an athlete holding each country’s flag.

It was a geography lesson for me as there were countries I had never heard of like Tuvalu, Sao Torre and Principe, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Cape Verde, Republic of Moldova and Kiribati. If the Olympics had an award for best costume like the Miss Universe, I would give it to the contingent from Mexico. While teams from most countries wore the same uniform, the Mexicans donned different outfits with colorful variations of a unifying design.   

The announcers came well-prepared with detailed information on each of the presented countries and Olympic-related trivia. However, they probably misread their notes when one of them said the Philippines was composed of 700 islands instead of more than 7,000.

As expected, the host country had the most number of athletes with 556. Not far behind was the United States with 532. The country with the least number of participants was Timor-Leste with two. I also discovered that there were athletes who did not represent any country and they marched with a banner that said Independent Olympic Athletes.   

Celebrity spotting

The ceremony was filled with celebrities, including “Harry Potter” author J. K. Rowling who read excerpts from “Peter Pan.” Director Kenneth Branagh read lines from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” David Beckham arrived with the Olympic torch on a speedboat via the river Thames. Marching with the U.S. delegation were basketball superstars Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.

The royal family was well represented. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama was in the VIP stand. And Paul McCartney concluded the ceremony with a rendition of “Hey Jude.”

The Olympic torch was lit by seven young athletes who received the torches from seven Olympic legends. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali also played a part when the Olympic flag was brought in by seven personalities known for their humanitarian efforts.

The evening was a fitting prelude to the games when athletes will compete to live up to the Olympic motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”

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