After the awe-inspiring opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008, we all knew that it would be almost impossible to do better in London in 2012. That is simply because the Chinese set the standard so high, that it looked like one of those olympic records which lasts for decades before it is finally broken.

In this sense, the opening ceremony at London did not disappoint me: it was just as bad as I expected it would be…

Not that it was THAT bad… But it paled by comparison to Beijing.

The best and the rest

I suppose we all knew that London would not be able to surpass Beijing simply because the amount of resources pooled by the Chinese was enormous (financial, human and technological). Nobody can do better than that, at least not for the next couple of decades. Rio, coming up next, will be no exception.

I did expect that London could surprise the audience by being creative. The financial resources would not match Beijing’s, specially since the UK has been economically depressed since the last Olympic Games. We also know that the Chinese have a cultural discipline which allows them to have 500 people performing flawlessly as one, something difficult to match anywhere else. However, the British have a wonderful history of creativity and I hoped this might save the day. It did account for the highlights of the ceremony–it’s a pity that they were few and far apart, while most of it was disappointingly predictable and poorly executed.

The main flaw of the London 2012 Opening was that it was totally centred on Britain and nothing else. There was barely any mention at all that this was a world event! If you took away the parade of the athletes and the speeches by the two Olympic Committee officials, this ceremony could well have been for opening the English Football Premier League (except that they have more money to spend than the OG committee ever had…!)

Beijing was about China, but it was also about “the world”: there was a huge sphere that rose from the ground (amazement, surprise) and turned into an Earth globe (amazement, surprise) with live people walking all over it (wow!); there was a moment when 500 dancers opened their umbrellas and each showed a picture of a child, all unique, from all over the world (amazement, surprise!).

There was nothing of the sort in the London ceremony.

It was all about “me, me, me!”, embarrassingly selfish and self-centred. Britain as a rural community, then transformed by the industrial revolution (complete with smoking chimneys and soot), then taken over by unruly youths in the 60’s and 70’s. They stopped short of showing the greedy investment bankers of London City in the 80’s and 90’s, and the financial meltdown of 2008. Director Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire fame) sent his message across, but it’s not a pretty picture… That, in itself, was not the problem: I commend Boyle for his honesty. The problem was not acknowledging the existence of a world outside the British Isles.

The Olympic Games are a global event, designed to promote international understanding. They are hosted by a city every four years, but this is not ONLY about the host city (that is, it shouldn’t be).

The show was mediocre and amateurish: I’ve seen better in my kids’ high school events. The choreography and the costumes were appalling, the music was plain and unremarkable.

I should have known there were going to be problems when, at the very beginning, when soldiers came carrying the British flag to be hoisted, they couldn’t even align their footsteps and arm movements… This from a country which is famous for the “changing of the guard” ceremony at Buckingham Palace! They should have involved the Grenadiers to do this part.

The whole “boy meets girl” in the 60’s/70’s sequence was very cliché, and plagued by a simple flaw: girl drops her mobile phone, boy picks it up and calls her; she answers and they start flirting… But how can she pick up a phone call if he is the one holding her cell phone? Go figure…

Saved by Mr. Bean

I was feeling embarrassed just watching all this… And when they announced that the London Symphony Orchestra was going to play music from “Chariots Of Fire”, I almost turned off my TV set. How cliché can you get? Then Rowan Atkinson appeared in the orchestra as his “Mr. Bean” character and the show was saved by his humour. At last, British creativity at its best!

Atkinson was great, and his performance changed the whole mood of the event. Unfortunately, that did not last long…

Creative fire

Eventually we had the endless parade of athletes… This has always been too long in every Olympic Games, London was no exception. There were some people-moving hiccups once in a while and that stalled the parade a few times, but it was not a major issue. I’ve seen worse in past ceremonies.

When the Olympic Flame was finally brought inside the stadium (David Beckham pretending to drive a speed boat on the Thames was a bit much: another “cult of celebrity” thing that could have been spared) we had a couple of nice surprises.

I liked the fact that they had a group of young athletes carrying the flame together. That was a breath of fresh air, away from the traditional steeple chase arrangement. That’s the kind of creativity I would have loved to see throughout the whole ceremony!

The Olympic Pyre was also very creative: rather than a single pyre, it was made of 200 funnel-like pieces, which had been brought by youngsters walking along the side of each delegation flag bearer. These “funnels” formed a large circle on the ground, like the petals of a huge flower. As they were lit, the “petals” rose and came together at the centre, forming one pyre and one flame. This will be my favourite memory from the ceremony, something hard to be bettered in the future.

The finale was led by Paul McCartney. I’m a big Beatles fan, but I disliked the choice of singing “Hey Jude” as the closing song. It was a shallow choice: it’s a great song, everybody can sing along the final bars, but it has nothing to do with the Olympics! Hell, when the Arctic Monkeys (sold out to the Establishment…) sung John Lennon’s “Come Together”, the lyrics were more consistent with the occasion… McCartney sung “The End” just before “Hey Jude”: it would be better to do it the other way around, but better still would be to pick a different song.

Four years from now the Games will be in Rio. I hope the Brazilians will learn from what they saw in Beijing and in London, and I hope they will come up with something totally different. I love surprises…