Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

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Olympics: Opening Ceremonies

Okay, all of you who are bored by sports in general and the Olympics in particular can go away now. I'm likely to be writing about my reactions to the XX Winter Olympics for the next couple of weeks. I like sports, and I like the Winter Olympics, so there.

I decided to watch the Opening Ceremonies, although initially I was going to skip it. After all, it's not actually part of the sports themselves; it's only the overblown excitement at the front. But, after having run Events at Interaction, I look at these formal events differently. My experience chairing ConJose, and the necessary involvement as a participant in the ceremonies, also colors my attitude.

Of course, this means I'm looking at the events with a critical eye, and I can empathize with the ceremony director and how he must feel when each element goes right, and how he probably knows every little thing that went wrong, even if the audience didn't know it. And with thousands of people and a vast number of effects to get right, how can something not go wrong?

The initial segment, starting with a guy hammering on a giant anvil out of which flames shot every time he struck it, was very impressive, I thought. Everything in the early portions seemed to work well. I was rather taken with the section where hundreds of people formed a figure of a ski jumper taking off, flying through the air, and landing. The coordination required to make this work was impressive.

I've heard the Italian national anthem a lot because I watch Formula 1 racing. They had a little girl singing the opening section, after which a choir sang the second section. The girl's eyes kept darting back and forth. I think she was trying to watch herself on the big screens.

I like the Parade of Nations. They brought the teams in relatively early in the ceremony relative to the last Summer Olympics, which I think is good -- shouldn't the players get to see the ceremony, too? I enjoy watching all the countries march in, even -- possibly especially -- those countries who rarely or never have a chance to place well. For example, Bermuda has only one athlete, a skeleton rider. They noted that he did not wear Bermuda shorts -- and that in the past, even winter Olympians have been known to wear them.

The excitement is apparent on so many of these athletes' faces, for which this may be the most exciting moment of their lives -- except probably when they compete later in the Games.

I know it's only ceremonial, but having the two Koreas march in as a combined team (they still compete separately) was another nice touch. I'd like to hope that it's a sign that someday that potential flash-point could cool down.

Speaking of flash points, I see that Taiwan ("Chinese Taipei") marches under a special flag, rather than their national ROC flag. I agree with Bob Costas that it will be interesting to see how they compete at the next summer Olympics, and how the PRC treats them, given their mutual official stances about each other's governments.

On the opposite end, Serbia-Montenegro marched as a single team possibly for the last time; they will apparently vote soon on a proposal for separation; however, one hopes such separation goes as peacefully as the Czech Republic and Slovakia

I also think it's nice that Hong Kong is allowed to field a separate team, as does the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, etc.

You learn things you never knew before. Japan's team entered just before Great Britain, because the country's name in Italian is "Giapponne." Hungary marches near the end, because it is "Ungaria."

Former NHL (and San Jose Sharks) goaltender Arturs Irbe was the flag-bearer for the Latvian team. I remember "Irbe Like Wall" when he played for San Jose. Had he still been playing in the NHL, he would have had to miss the Opening Ceremonies, because the NHL doesn't take their Olympic break for a couple of days.

I note that the parade's soundtrack seems to be mostly 1980s pop music. (Oddly enough, just as I started to write about that, Bob Costas of the NBC commentary team commented on this himself.) I suppose it shows my lack of musical taste that I like the selections. But cherylmorgan despairs of me and says I'd probably like the Eurovision song contest, too.

I wondered if the USA team would be met with a chorus of boos, given how bad opinion of us is around the world; however, Team USA got a pretty good cheer. Possibly a lot of American have made the trip to Torino to populate the ceremonies.

Sweden's uniforms had an interesting touch: their gloves were blue with a yellow cross, forming their flag, so as they waved, it was a sea of Swedish flags.

Naturally the Italian contingent, which as the host country was the last team to enter, got a big cheer.

With the countries present, it was on to the next segment of the ceremony, starting with an elaborate display of coordinated flag-waving. I winced at all of the possibilities for error here.

A live-action reproduction of The Birth of Venus? Weird.

What a mess this thing would have been if it had rained or snow. They got really lucky. I was reminded of how at Interaction we desperately hoped it wouldn't rain on Saturday night (Masquerade) because we needed to take contestants back and forth across the driveway between the Armadillo and the Moat House for the Fan Photo area.

After a dance number that contrasted classical and modern style, we had what was billed as a "real-time" pit stop for the Ferrari F1 team, with what was apparently Michael Schumacher's vehicle from last year with an Olympic paint job. That didn't work out so well. 35 seconds? Who are you kidding? Then the F1 rolled away from the pit onto the stage and did some donuts, with the loud car roaring away.

Then it was time for some "protocol" sections, with official speeches from the local organizing committee and the IOC. The athletes around the lectern couldn't resist the urge to wave and try and get more camera time.

The President of Italy then formally convened the games with the Italian equivalent of "I declare the games open." Having given the Worldcon equivalent (I convened ConJose; Tom Whitmore officially adjourned it), I think a lot about these formalities.

The Olympic flag was then brought in. Sophia Loren was one of the flag bearers, looking incredibly good in her seventies. We should all be so well-preserved.

Raising of the Olympic flag was slightly flat because there wasn't much breeze inside the stadium, so the flag just hung there limply. I'm surprised they don't fly the Olympic and national flags in such a way that they wouldn't need a breeze; suspend them the way they do the flags in the medal ceremonies or at an F1 winners' ceremony.

The Olympic Oath was ceremonially taken. I wish they'd all follow it, but I have my doubts. I feel similarly about the oath taken by the judges, although I note that at these games they didn't have an official take the oath as I've seen at past Games. Mind you, I don't care that much for the judged sports (as opposed to the timed and refereed sports); they're excessively subjective, and figure skating in particular seems to be more like "who was planned in advance to win unless s/he falls on his/her tail spectacularly." At least in downhill skiing, it doesn't matter whether you're the best skier in the world -- you still have to go the fastest down the hill, and won't be given the gold "because you were supposed to win."

A vertical display by acrobats on ropes put me in mind of things you might expect to see at Cirque d'Soleil. They finished up by forming the image of a dove, which led to a "peace poem" was read by Yoko Ono, followed by Peter Gabriel singing John Lennon's "Imagine". For a moment wondered if Ono was hijacking the ceremony, going off on an unplanned rant, but I guess it was okay.

The Olympic flame finally arrived, after its long journey. A past games' flame went through the Marysville/Yuba City area years ago, and people I knew carried it that day. The commentators went on about how the identities of the final five flame-bearers are a "closely guarded secret," but of course they have all the information about the bearers immediately at hand, so obviously many people must have known. I've been involved with several Hugo Award ceremonies, and in one, I carefully gave the person responsible for the titling machine the results in advance "under embargo" so he could type up the winners information and display it over their images when they accepted. But I did it uneasily, and with a number of celebrated cases of the winners' names either being displayed wrong or too soon, I've come to wonder if the reward is worth the risk when it comes to Hugo Award ceremonies. We don't have the time to do the rehearsals to get things nearly perfect the way they do with Olympic ceremonies.

The actual lighting of the main flame was pretty impressive, with flames arching around the stage and up the tower to the top in spectacular fashion. Nice job, that.

As the ceremony neared its end, they recreated an opera stage on which Luciano Pavarotti performed, which was odd but effective, and as the curtain lowered, fireworks shot into the sky. I think the pyrotechnics were especially impressive from the aerial camera, which showed the massive rapid-fire coordination necessary to pull it off.

So the Games are underway. The Opening Ceremonies were very impressive. The amount of work necessary to plan, rehearse, and perform such a massive ceremony boggles the mind.

Of course, I'm nine hours behind Italy, so all of this actually happened hours before I saw it. I'll be dodging news of the games all day in hopes of being able to see the events without knowing the results in advance in the evening. And, assuming NBC does something similar to the last Olympics, I'm going to missing a lot of sleep watching sports on CNBC/MSNBC/USA, while NBC itself devotes itself mostly to "occasional continuing coverage of the US Olympic Team between interminable human-interest stories repeating how many hardships the athletes had to overcome.
Tags: olympics
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