Olympic Games ceremony

Olympic Games ceremony

Olympic Games ceremonies were an integral part of the Ancient Olympic Games. Some of the elements of the modern ceremonies harken back to the Ancient Games from which the Modern Olympics draw their ancestry. An example of this is the prominence of Greece in both the opening and closing ceremonies. During the 2004 Games, the medal winners received a crown of olive branches, which was a direct reference to the Ancient Games, in which the victor's prize was an olive wreath. The various elements of the ceremonies are mandated by the Olympic Charter and cannot be changed by the host nation. Even the artistic portion of the opening and closing ceremonies must meet the approval of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The ceremonies have evolved over the centuries. Ancient Games incorporated ceremonies to mark the beginning and ending of each successive games. There are both similarities and differences between the ancient Olympic ceremonies and their modern counterparts. While the presentation of the Games has evolved with improvements in technology and the desire of the host nations to showcase their own artistic expression, the basic events of each ceremony have remained unchanged. The presentation of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies continue to increase in scope, scale and expense with each successive celebration of the Games, but they are still steeped in tradition.


Ancient forerunners

The Ancient Games, held in Greece from ca. 776 BCE to ca. 393 CE,[1] provide the first examples of Olympic ceremonies. The victory celebration, elements of which are in evidence in the modern-day medal and closing ceremonies, often involved elaborate feasts, drinking, singing, and the recitation of poetry. The wealthier the victor the more extravagant the celebration.[2] The victors were presented with an olive wreath or crown harvested from a special tree in Olympia by a boy, specially selected for this purpose, using a golden sickle.[2] The festival would conclude with the victors making solemn vows and performing ritual sacrifices to the various gods to which they were beholden.[2]

There is evidence of dramatic changes in the format of the Ancient Games over the nearly 12 centuries that they were celebrated. Eventually, by roughly the 77th Olympiad, a standard 18–event program was established.[3] In order to open a Games in ancient Greece the organizers would present an Inauguration Festival. This was followed by a ceremony in which athletes took an oath of sportsmanship. The first competition, an artistic competition of trumpeters and heralds, concluded the opening festivities.[3]


A scene from the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The opening ceremonies represent the official commencement of a celebration of the Olympic Games. In recent Olympics though, athletic competition has begun prior to the opening ceremonies. Due to the large field of football teams at the 2008 Summer Olympics, the football competitions for both men and women began two days prior (August 6) to the opening ceremonies.[4] As mandated by the Olympic Charter, various elements frame the Opening Ceremonies of a celebration of the Olympic Games.[5][6] Most of these rituals were canonized at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.[7]

Coubertin's initial vision of the Modern Olympics featured both athletic competitions and artistic achievements.[8] As the modern Olympics have evolved into a celebration of sport, it is in the opening ceremonies that one can see the most of Coubertin's ideal. The ceremonies typically start with the raising of the host country's flag and a performance of its national anthem.[5][6] The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theater representative of its culture, history, and the current Olympic game motto.[7] Since the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the artistic presentations have continued to grow in scale and complexity. The opening ceremony at the Beijing Games, for example, reportedly cost US$100 million,€75 million with much of the cost incurred in the artistic portion of the ceremony.[9]

The traditional part of the ceremonies starts with a "Parade of Nations", during which most participating athletes march into the stadium, country by country. It is not compulsory for athletes to participate in the opening ceremonies. Due to the proximity of the ceremonies to the first events of the Games, many athletes competing in these early events elect not to participate.

Each country's delegation is led by a sign with the name of their country and by their nation's flag.[5][6] Traditionally (starting at the 1928 Summer Olympics), Greece enters first, due to its historical status as the progenitor of the Olympics, while the host nation marches last.[7] In the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the Greek flag led the parade, while the Greek team marched in last, as the host nation.

All other participating teams march after Greece and before the host nation, in order according to a language that the organizing committee for those games selects, which is usually the dominant language in the area of the host city. Announcers announce each country's name in French and English, as they both are the official languages of the Olympics, and the dominant language of the area of the host city, if neither French and English are the dominant languages.

In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, both Spanish and Catalan were official languages of the games, but due to the political sensitivity surrounding the use of Catalan, the nations entered in French alphabetical order. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, teams were ordered by the number of strokes in the Chinese translation of the team name.[10] In the 2010 Winter Olympics, teams entered in English alphabetical order, although the languages of the Olympics are also the languages of the host country, Canada, because English is the more dominant of the two in Vancouver and in the host province of British Columbia.

After all nations have entered, the president of the Organizing Committee makes a speech, followed by the IOC president. At the end of his speech, he introduces the representative of the host country who officially declares the opening of the Games. Despite the Games having been awarded to a particular city and not to the country in general, the Olympic Charter presently requires the opener to be the host country's head of state.[11] However, there have been many cases where someone other than the host country's head of state opened the Games. The first example was at the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris in 1900, which had no opening ceremony. There are five examples from the United States alone in which the Games were not opened by the head of state.[12]

The Olympic Charter provides[11] that the person designated to open the Games should do so by reciting whichever of the following lines is appropriate:

  • If at the Games of the Olympiad: I declare open the Games of [name of the host city] celebrating the [ordinal number of the Olympiad] Olympiad of the modern era.
  • If at the Winter Games: I declare open the Games of [name of the host city] celebrating the [ordinal number of Winter Olympics] Olympic Winter Games.

Before 1936, the opening official would often make a short welcoming speech before declaring the Games open. However, since 1936, when Adolf Hitler opened both the Garmisch Partenkirchen Winter Olympics and the Berlin Summer Olympics, the openers have used the standard formula. Recent editions of the Winter Games have seen a trend of using the first version instead of the second, which happened in both the 2002 and 2010[13] Winter Games. There have been three further exceptions to the rule:

  • In 1976, Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada, opened the Montreal Olympics (first in French followed by the English) with:

"I declare open the Olympic Games of 1976, celebrating the XXI Olympiad of the modern era." [14]

Celebrating the XXIII Olympiad of the modern era, I declare open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles.[15]

On behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation..., then the standard opening formula followed.

Next, the Olympic flag is carried horizontally (since the 1960 Summer Olympics) into the stadium and hoisted as the Olympic Hymn is played. The Olympic Charter states that the Olympic flag must "fly for the entire duration of the Olympic Games from a flagpole placed in a prominent position in the main stadium".[11]

The flag bearers of all countries then circle a rostrum, where one athlete (since the 1920 Summer Olympics) and one judge (since the 1972 Summer Olympics) speak the Olympic Oath, declaring they will compete and judge according to the rules of their respective sport.[11] Finally, the Torch is brought into the stadium, passed from athlete to athlete, until it reaches the last carrier; often a well-known athlete from the host nation, who lights the fire in the stadium's cauldron.[11] Under IOC rules, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron must be witnessed by those attending the opening ceremony, implying that it must be lit at the location where the ceremony is taking place. Although another IOC rule states that the cauldron should be witnessed outside by the entire residents of the entire host city. This was made evident during the opening ceremony for the 2010 Games, which were the first to be held indoors.

Beginning at the post–World War I 1920 Summer Olympics, the lighting of the Olympic Flame was followed by the release of doves, symbolizing peace.[11] This gesture was discontinued after several doves were burned alive in the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Summer Olympics.[16] It was later replaced with a symbolic release of doves after the flame has been lit.[5][6]


Athletes gather in the stadium during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics

In contrast to the opening ceremonies, many of the elements of the closing ceremonies are governed more by tradition than official mandate. Usually flag bearers from each participating country enter the stadium in single file, and behind them march all of the athletes without any distinction or grouping by nationality. The blending of all the athletes is a tradition that began during the 1956 Summer Olympics at the suggestion of Melbourne schoolboy John Ian Wing, who thought it would be a way of bringing the athletes of the world together as "one nation."[17] (In 2006, the athletes marched in with their countrymen, then dispersed and mingled as the ceremonies went on.) During the Summer Olympics the medal ceremony for the men's marathon is traditionally held during the closing ceremonies. Where in the program this occurs depends on the wishes of the organizing committee of the respective host city.

After the athletes enter the stadium, three national flags are hoisted on flagpoles one at a time while the corresponding national anthems are played: the flag of Greece on the middle pole to honor the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the flag of the host country on the left pole, and the flag of the country hosting the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games on the right pole.[18] In 2004, when the Games were held in Athens, only one Greek flag was raised, although two Greek flags were raised in addition to that of Australia when the games were in Sydney the previous Olympiad.

Following the flag raising ceremony, the president of the Organizing Committee makes a speech. The IOC president then formally closes the Olympics by saying:

I declare the Games of the [ordinal number] Olympiad/[ordinal number] Olympic Winter Games closed and, in accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in [name of host city] to celebrate the Games of the [subsequent ordinal number] Olympiad/[subsequent ordinal number] Olympic Winter Games.

The Olympic Flame is extinguished and, while the Olympic Hymn is played, the Olympic Flag that was hoisted during the opening ceremonies is lowered from the flagpole and carried from the stadium.[19]

In what is known as the Antwerp Ceremony (because the tradition began at the Antwerp Games), the mayor of the city that organized the Games transfers a special Olympic Flag to the president of the IOC, who then passes it on to the mayor of the city hosting the next Olympic Games.[11] The receiving mayor then waves the flag eight times. There are three such flags, differing from all other copies in that they have a six-colored fringe around the flag and are tied with six colored ribbons to a flagstaff:

  • The Antwerp flag was presented to the IOC at the 1920 Summer Olympics by the city of Antwerp, Belgium, and was passed on to the next organizing city of the Summer Olympics until the 1988 Games in Seoul.
  • The Oslo flag was presented to the IOC at the 1952 Winter Olympics by the city of Oslo, Norway, and is passed on to the next organizing city of the Winter Olympics.
  • The Seoul flag was presented to the IOC at the 1988 Summer Olympics by the city of Seoul, South Korea as a replacement for the Antwerp flag.

This tradition posed a particular challenge at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. The flag was passed from Sergio Chiamparino, the mayor of Turin, to Sam Sullivan, the mayor of Vancouver, Canada. Mayor Sullivan, who is a quadriplegic, waved the flag by holding it in one hand and swinging his motorized wheelchair back and forth eight times.[20] After these traditional elements, the next host nation introduces itself with artistic displays of dance and theater representative of that country or city. This tradition began with the 1976 Games.

Medal presentation

The medal ceremony for the men's team pursuit at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

After each Olympic event is completed a medal ceremony is held. The summer games would usually conduct the ceremonies immediately after the event at the respective venues, whereas the winter editions would present the medals at a nightly victory ceremony held at a medal plaza. A three–tiered rostrum is used for the three medal winners, with the gold medal winner ascending to the highest platform. The medals are awarded by a member of the IOC.[21] After medals are distributed, the flags of the nations of the three medalists are raised. The flag of the gold medalist's country is in the center and raised the highest while the flag of the silver medalist's country is on the left facing the flags and the flag of the bronze medalist's country is on the right, both at lower elevations than the gold medalist's country's flag. The flags are raised while the national anthem of the gold medalist's country plays.[22] Citizens of the host country also act as hosts during the medal ceremonies. They aid the officials who present the medals and act as flag bearers.[23]

Strict rules govern the conduct of athletes during the medal ceremony. For example they are required to wear only pre-approved outfits that are standard for the athlete's national Olympic team. They are not allowed to display any political affiliation or make a political statement while on the medal stand.[11] The most famous violation of this rule was the Black Power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. For their actions, IOC president Avery Brundage demanded their expulsion from the Olympics.[24] If the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) did not comply, then Brundage demanded the removal of the entire track and field team of the United States. The USOC complied with his demands and Smith and Carlos were expelled.[25]


  1. ^ "Ancient Olympic Games". The Olympic Movement. http://www.olympic.org/en/content/Olympic-Games/Ancient-Olympic-Games/. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  2. ^ a b c Swaddling, Judith (1999). The Ancient Olympic Games. University of Texas Press. p. 90–93. ISBN 0292777515. 
  3. ^ a b Howell, Maxwell L. (1975). The Ancient Olympic Games:A Reconstruction of the Program. San Diego State University. 
  4. ^ "Complete Olympic Schedule". USA Today. 2008-08-10. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/beijing/results.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Fact sheet: Opening Ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games" (PDF). International Olympic Committee. February 2008. http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_1134.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Fact sheet: Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games" (PDF). International Olympic Committee. February 2008. http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_1036.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  7. ^ a b c "The development of the Games - Between festival and tradition" (PDF). The Modern Olympic Games. International Olympic Committee. p. 5. http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_668.pdf#pages=5. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  8. ^ de Coubertin, Pierre (1997). Olympic Memoirs. International Olympic Committee. ISBN 9291490156. 
  9. ^ "Beijing Dazzles: Chinese History, on Parade as Olympics Begin". Canadian Broadcasting Centre. 2008-08-08. http://www.cbc.ca/olympics/story/2008/08/07/olympics-ceremonies.html. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  10. ^ Walker, Peter (2008-08-08). "Beijing Olympics open with spectacular ceremony". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/aug/08/olympics2008.china1. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h "Olympic Charter". The International Olympic Committee. 2007-07-07. http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_122.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-10. .
  12. ^ The first case was the St. Louis Games at which David Francis, President of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, performed the ceremony; nobody had thought of inviting President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1932, the then-Governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt, opened the III Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. Later that year the Vice President of the United States, Charles Curtis, opened the Games of the X Olympiad in Los Angeles, California, stating, however, that he was doing so on behalf of President Herbert Hoover. In 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon was sent by President Dwight Eisenhower to open the VIII Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley, California, and finally, in 1980, Vice President Walter Mondale stood in for President Jimmy Carter to open the XIII Olympic Winter Games, also in Lake Placid.
  13. ^ "Opening Ceremony: 2010 Winter Games declared open". Vancouver 2010. 12 February 2010. http://www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-news/n/news/afp-news/opening-ceremony--2010-winter-games-declared-open_274384BS.html. Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  14. ^ Montreal 1976 Olympics Opening on YouTube
  15. ^ 1984 LA Opening Ceremonies - Lighting of the Cauldron on YouTube
  16. ^ "When messengers of peace were burnt alive". Deccan Herald. 2004-08-13. Archived from the original on 2004-08-29. http://web.archive.org/web/20040829084509/http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/aug132004/oly5.asp. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  17. ^ "Melbourne (Equestrian - Stockholm) 1956". British Olympic Association. http://www.olympics.org.uk/gamesabout.aspx?gt=S&ga=14. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  18. ^ "Olympic Closing Ceremony Protocol". New Dehli Television. 2008-08-30. http://www.ndtv.com/olympics/storypage.aspx?storyid=SPOEN20080062750. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  19. ^ "Closing Ceremony". The International Olympic Committee. 2002-01-31. http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_268.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  20. ^ Thomas, Andrew (2008-04-18). "Vancouver Mayor Achieves his Dreams with a Big Heart and Mechanical Help". Disabled World. http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/sam-sullivan.shtml. Retrieved 2009-02-15. 
  21. ^ "Olympic Games - the Medal Ceremonies". Encyclopedia Britannica. http://original.britannica.com/eb/article-249556/Olympic-Games. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  22. ^ "Symbols and Traditions". USA Today. 1999-07-12. http://www.usatoday.com/olympics/owg98/osytr03.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  23. ^ "Medal Ceremony Hostess Outfits Revealed". China Daily. 2008-07-18. http://english.sina.com/china/p/1/2008/0718/172118.html. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  24. ^ "1968 Black Athletes make silent protest". BBC. 1968-10-17. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/17/newsid_3535000/3535348.stm. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  25. ^ "Mexico 1968". International Olympic Committee. http://www.olympic.org/uk/games/past/innovations_uk.asp?OLGT=1&OLGY=1968. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 

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