Producing an opening ceremony for the Olympic Games is a task that requires certain athletic attributes: stamina, skill, and discipline. The first ceremony of its kind opened the 1908 Games in London, and much has changed since then. Olympic traditions have multiplied, audience numbers have increased by the billions, and expectations are enormous.
As the organizers of the fast-approaching 2012 London Games know, opening ceremonies have become tremendous spectacles that require the contributions of thousands. They’re packed with choreographed displays, elaborate technical staging, and celebrity appearances; over the years they’ve featured jet packs, flaming arrows, military-style pageants, and performances ranging from the poignant to the surreal.
Amid the spectacle, some elements haven’t changed for years.
THE PARADE OF NATIONS
The procession of competing athletes into the venue is always led by the Greek team and followed by the host country’s team. This is the only tradition that has been included in every opening ceremony, from 1908 until now.
THE OLYMPIC FLAG
This symbol, designed by Pierre de Courbertin, was introduced at the 1920 Antwerp Games. It shows five interlocking rings of blue, yellow, black, green, and red — at least one color from every nation’s flag — to symbolize friendship between the five major continents.
THE OLYMPIC OATH
Sometimes called the Athlete’s Oath, this is a promise to play fairly and obey the rules of the games. The oath is always taken on behalf of all the athletes by a competitor from the host country. Along with the flag, the oath debuted at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
THE OLYMPIC FLAME
In the ancient Olympics, a flame — thought to represent purity and the endeavour for perfection — was ignited by the sun and kept burning until the closing of the games. This tradition was revived at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. The torch relay, where the flame is lit in Olympia, Greece and carried to the host city, first appeared at the controversial 1936 games in Nazi-era Berlin. Despite its disquieting origins, the torch relay has become one of the most inclusive Olympic traditions, and a true symbol of unity and cooperation between nations.
To feed your Olympic fever while the world gears up for the 2012 London Games, we’ve put together a collection of images at corbis.com. See the Olympics galleries