The London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony made for riveting viewing for almost four hours on Friday night. Its artistic content was overseen by director Danny Boyle, and was eccentric, compelling, and frequently surreal. Then came the delegations of athletes. And then the speeches.
Sports Minister Limor Livnat, wearing a black ribbon on her arm, stood in head-bowed, silent tribute to the 11 murdered Israeli athletes of Munich 1972, as International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge spoke — an image not shown on the Olympic feed broadcast by Israel’s IBA.
The Times of Israel reported the night’s events live.
London’s lavish Olympics opening ceremony is getting under way. We’re promised a three-hour extravaganza, showcasing the best of British, in a quirky kind of way.
There’s been huge interest in who is going to light the Olympic cauldron, at the end of the Olympic torch’s journey. The Queen? David Beckham? James Bond? The smart money is on Roger Bannister, the Englishman who first ran a mile in under four minutes. He’s now in his 80s…
The on field entertainment has begun — olde Englishe traditions showcased. Ethereal voices sing “Jerusalem.” Jerusalem? That’s the capital of a country somewhere, isn’t it? Maybe we’re confused.
While we watch the British Isles and their history showcased on screen — including their sporting achievements — for Israeli eyes this ceremony will be highlighted when the Israeli athletes enter, and when we see how the promised “moment of silence” pans out — a standing protest urged by the Munich windows during IOC chief Jacques Rogges speech.
Kenneth Branagh has just read Caliban’s speech from The Tempest to introduce a segment apparently showcasing the Industrial Revolution. This is quirky indeed — small, beautifully choreographed vignettes unfolding all over the field.
While this unfolds, let me urge you to read Mitch Ginsburg’s extraordinary piece on the 40-year quest for a proper memorial moment for the Munich 11, led by Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andre, Israel’s fencing coach, was one of those murdered. Two weeks before he was killed, she had given birth to their daughter Anouk. Just a few weeks ago, Anouk was married. The article explains better than anything else we’ve read how the massacre unfolded, and what cynicism the families of the victims have had to endure since.
Somehow we seem to have graduated from suffragettes to The Beatles, in a few seconds. Dull, it isn’t. Lots of heavy building, smokestacks rising from the turf. And now the Olympic Rings descending from above in glorious gold. This show cost about $40 million, we’re told — cheap by comparison to previous such presentations. It’s been a 20-minute tour de force of British history. And soon, we are told, we’ll be joined by the Queen.
James Bond’s moment — he’s come to the see the Queen, 86 this year, and marking her jubilee; 60 years on the throne. Daniel Craig escorts Her Majesty through the palace, many corgis in tow. Up a small red staircase into a chopper — Union Jack insignia of course. And off to the stadium. Winston Churchill’s statue comes to life to wave. Stirring stuff. Through Tower Bridge. And over the stadium.
James watches. The moment is right. The helicopter door opens. “The Queen” parachutes down with him. Here they come! She’s a sport, that Elizabeth II.
And now this is her majesty for real. With Prince Philip in tow. Shaking hands with assorted dignitaries, including Mr Rogge. Taking her position in the royal box. The Union Flag — the Union Jack — is marched in. Very, very patriotic.
Time for “God Save the Queen”. The lady herself looks suitably impressed, although our screen cap catches her in pretty serious mode.
Mike Oldfield, the “Tubular Bells” maestro, appears on stage, to accompany a section that will take us through great British stories — Peter Pan, Mary Poppins… Nurses are taking care of small children in what seems to be a homage to Britain’s great, strained National Health Service. This Danny Boyle, he’s quite the unpredictable one. This has to be one of the most surreal, complex, visually ravishing such events, well, ever.
A short JK Rowling spot gives way to some bedtime nightmare scenes, calmed by salvoes of Mary Poppinses, descending from the heavens under their umbrellas. Kids are being tucked into glowing beds. Mr Oldfield is still playing. The central vast image was briefly a baby just now. Truly surreal.
From Mike Oldfield to conductor Simon Rattle, and the London Symphony Orchestra, to play music from the classic, Vangelis-themed Chariots of Fire. The film tells of a Jewish sprinter’s struggle to overcome anti-Semitism, set around the 1924 Paris Games. It has just been re-released in British cinemas as an adaptation comes to the stage.
And just when you relax, Danny Boyle gives us Rowan Atkinson, playing with the Orchestra one-fingered while pfaffing with his iPhone. Beijing 2008, this is not.
Rowan purports to have been the key musician in that section, much to Rattle’s comedic dismay.
Very British film clips now — short scenes with inside jokes like the scene of the weatherman — the unfortunate Michael Fish — who failed to predict a hurricane. 80s music; clips from Fawlty Towers; Blackadder. A section celebrating British soap operas. All of this unfolding at fast pace in what Boyle apparently wants us to feel could be any British home.
We’ve panned through British TV, film and movie history, with live dancing and innumerable clips. Exhausting to watch, never mind to perform. What the Queen is making of it all, anyone’s guess! Here come the Sex Pistols, notorious purveyors of “Anarchy in the UK,” of course. But in deference to Her Maj., Boyle airs a clip of their royally inoffensive “Pretty Vacant.”
The BBC reports that there are 79,000 light panels in the crowd, connected by 320km of cabling, to create the stadium’s flashing light effects.
Here’s the James Bond date with the Queen, to savor at leisure, while we watch Dizzee Rascal on stage.
Now, we’re moving on to more serious stuff. Here’s the Brit credited with inventing the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. And this section follows the Olympic torch on its 70-day journey through Britain — to the stadium.
David Beckham didn’t make it in the GB soccer team for the Olympics. But he gets to motor with the torch — carried by a young soccer player — up the Thames.
And now we do have a memorial moment — for those who could not be at the event tonight, we are told. The audience was asked to supply photos of loved ones. We see a digital “memorial wall” of photos. It’s a beautiful thought — but one that prompts an inevitable comparison with the 11 Israeli Olympians — Olympians, murdered at the Olympics — who are not being memorialized.
The hymn “Abide with me” is the soundtrack for this section on life and death. And that about concludes this opening section of the ceremonies. The parade of athletes gets under way now.
Here comes Afghanistan!
Greece, “home” of the Olympics, always marches in first. The GB hosts will be last.
Since the Lebanese judo team wouldn’t deign to so much as train in sight of the Israeli judokas earlier today, we wait to see whether the Iranians will deign to march near the Israelis.
And since the Olympic hosts agreed to erect a barrier so that the Israelis’ presence wouldn’t offend the Lebanese, we wait to see if the hosts have reorganized the alphabet, perhaps, to keep the Iranians safe from any exposure to the sportsfolk of the Zionist Regime.
This is going to take some time. We’re still on the Bs!
Meanwhile, here’s some more suggested reading for you. Our “Meet Team Israel” bloggers, under the title “Going for the Israeli Gold,” have been writing a series of profiles of Israel’s medal hopes. Here’s their piece on Arik Zeevi, four-time Olympian and 2004 bronze medal judoka. And here’s their main blog page, where all their articles are listed.
And here’s the link to our daily Israeli Olympic schedule. We’ll be following the fortunes of Israel’s 37-strong delegation day-by-day as the Olympics unfold. Tomorrow, for instance, gymnast Alex Shatilov, who won medals at recent world and European championships, and was a finalist in the ’08 games, will start his quest for an Olympic medal. And Misha Zilberman will make his mark in Israeli history when he becomes the first badminton player to compete at the Olympics under the blue-and-white flag.
The Bulgarians are marching in. Obviously, we feel a particular affinity, given the Burgas terror attack just nine days ago. Up to a billion people around the world — two billion, according to some reports — are watching this opening ceremony unfold.
If so, a lot of them are going to be off making the tea right now.
There are something like 80,000 people in the stadium — a purpose built facility in Stratford, East London, a fairly depressed part of the capital that is meant to enjoy a post-Olympic revival. The stadium has been hailed as revolutionary, and derided as looking like a bowl of blancmange. It is partially roofed — not too much as to invalidate world records; not too little as to run the risk of wind disrupting world record bids.
The Egyptians are in the stadium. Hesham Mesbah, a judo bronze four years ago, carries the flag.
And now the Iranians — a 53-strong delegation. They said first they would compete against all other nations; then that they wouldn’t. We may not know unless later stage events throw us together.
Here’s Israel, just three delegations away from the Iranians. Thirty-seven members in the team.
Israel TV switches at this point to the faces of the 11 murdered in Munich. And the commentary goes silent in Israel for half-a-minute.
These are the faces of the 11 murdered Munich Olympians, which flashed on the screen in Israel as the Israeli delegation marched into the stadium.
There had been some talk of the Israeli athletes wearing black armbands. In the event, it did not appear that they did. Various ceremonies were held earlier today in memory of the Munich 11, including one at the Israeli embassy, and another at London’s Trafalgar Square.
We’re more than half-way through the parade of nations now.
Here’s another shot of the Israeli team marching into the stadium, three after Iran, two after Iraq and, sparing Arab blushes, right after Ireland.
Reuters is reporting that Olympic and Saudi Arabian officials are in talks with judo chiefs after the sport’s governing body said Saudi Arabia’s female competitor would have to fight without her hijab, or Islamic headscarf.
The small Palestine delegation arrives in the stadium.
As far as I we can establish, the judoka Maher Abu Remeleh had a bye in his first-round contest earlier today, and lost in the second round to a Belgian. The Palestinians also have two swimmers and two runners competing in London.
The Palestinians have competed in every Olympics since Atlanta in 1996.
Israel’s flag-bearer was windsurfer Shahar Zubari, the only Israeli medal-winner in 2008 at Beijing. As you can see, he’s had the flag cut into his hair-do.
Zubari, 25 from Eilat, secured his spot at the games in May with a win at a Sailing World Cup competition in Medemblik, Holland. “Israel has a great sailing tradition at the Olympic games,” he said then. Let’s see if he can maintain it.
Viewers around the world are said to still be reeling from Danny Boyle’s opening hour or so. It truly was eccentric and energized, weird and wonderful.
The Guardian claims some American commentators thought Kenneth Branagh, playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the Industrial Revolution bit, was actually Abraham Lincoln. The famous Brit.
Word is, too, that a very brief clip showing Heather Graham and Bridget Moynahan, shock, kissing, may have made it past the censors at Saudi Arabian TV.
The Americans are here — to notably loud applause in the stadium. The end of the athletes march is imminent — it’s the US, not America, see.
And finally, the Brits — the last to march since, for the third time, they’re hosting.
As the Arctic Monkeys provide a musical interlude, let’s note that somewhere in those endless delegations, there was a smattering of Jewish athletes, too.
Our very own Aaron Kalman mused last week about an Australian sprinter, Boston-born gymnast and a sailor from New Zealand meeting at a synagogue. “While that could be the start of a joke, it could also be reality as Jewish athletes come together during the 2012 London Olympics.” Kalman’s piece on the successors to German-born Alfred Flatow, who won three gold medals at the 1896 games in Athens, is here.
The Arctics are playing “Come Together.” Singer Alex Turner sounds more like Ringo than John, but let’s not be picky. The band is tight and the glowing cyclists are glorious.
Now for the speeches. Lord Coe, ex-Olympic gold medalist, middle-distance runner, expresses his pride “to be part of the Olympic movement” and to be British.
Jacques Rogges, the president of the International Olympic Committee, is set to speak next. Born in a Belgium under Nazi occupation, he’s the bureaucrat who resisted the Israel-led calls for a moment of silence at this ceremony.
Rogge speaks, to some initial murmuring, and then bursts of loud applause.
If anyone is standing silently in protest at his refusal to honor the Munich 11, the Olympic feed on Israel TV isn’t showing it. Israel’s Sports Minister Limor Livnat had said she would lead a silent standing protest from the VIP area.
Rogge is praising the organizers, the volunteers, the participants. He hails the boost to gender equality in that every major team has female athletes. He hails the great city of London. He hails the spirit of fair play. He hails the talent and dedication of the athletes. He hails the Olympic ideal. He declares that “character counts far more than medals.” He urges the athletes to “remember that you are all role medals. If you do that, you will inspire a generation.”
He does not mention the 11 Israeli Olympians murdered at the Games of 1972.
And the Queen declares the London Games open.
Here comes the flame, driven along the Thames by Beckham. Five-time British gold-medal rower — five golds, at five consecutive Olympics — Sir Steve Redgrave takes up the torch. Taekwondo champion Sarah Stevenson takes the Olympic oath on behalf of the athletes.
After what we are told is “a journey of 12,800 miles,” the Olympic Flame enters the stadium. A group of young British athletes takes it on its short final stretch. British medalists of decades past hold torches aloft.
The entire perimeter of the stadium field is ablaze with the Olympic flame, sourced from that first torch. Beautiful. And now the flames rise and combine into the Olympic Cauldron. An extraordinary sight.
Cue fireworks. Pink Floyd. An extraordinary, contemporary, sophisticated conclusion to the ceremony — completed by Paul McCartney, playing “The End.”
We’re going to listen to “Hey Jude” and wish you good night.
May the Games that ensue reflect, not the shabby realpolitik and cynicism that prevented a small moment of tribute to 11 murdered athletes, but, rather, the very finest Olympic qualities that those Israeli sportsmen represented.