x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Over-stimulating opening ceremonies at Olympics are not going away soon

I kept a faint and unrealistic hope for London, figuring that London had no reason to outdo itself or anyone else because not even London can outdo London.

Fireworks surround a clock counting down the days to the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in Trafalgar Square, London. Andrew Winning / Reuters
Fireworks surround a clock counting down the days to the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in Trafalgar Square, London. Andrew Winning / Reuters

Opening and closing ceremonies ought to be banned. Absolute bloody nuisances. I have been to one that was absolutely, appallingly awful."

— Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to the Daily Telegraph, May 2006

 

I keep waiting for some Olympic city to get all puckish on us and do a Games in minimalism.

The athletes would march in, the flame would rise from a basic cauldron amid the pitch and that would be about the gist.

Organisers would announce that the ceremony had cost about US$12 (Dh 44) and saved on electricity by moving to daytime.

There might be one piano, one or two songs and a brisk show done so quickly that they could go ahead and start the competitions that very evening, perhaps with an attention-needy sport like racewalking, that astonishing pursuit that always causes the urge to yell at the participants: "Why don't you just run!"

Some brave city would stop trying to outdo the last with ostentation and would quell the clear risk that someday, some Olympic ceremony is going to go awry and inadvertently blow up the entire planet, at which point everyone will be sorry.

I kept a faint and unrealistic hope for London, figuring that London had no reason to outdo itself or anyone else because not even London can outdo London.

There is no need to have gigantic renditions of, for example, men hovering above the stadium while complaining because some dingbat referee failed to call an obvious handball.

Must London explore all its cultures and heritage in a ceremony before the Games? If so, that's going to take the first week and wreak intensive scheduling difficulties for the remainder.

Instead, nobody could pull off irony like London. It might even go so far as to feature a tiny cauldron, with some cherished athlete of yore lighting it with a cigarette lighter he or she borrowed outside a hotel where smoking has been mercifully banned. But no, sigh away, for it grew clear on Monday night that London seems tilted toward more attempted dazzlement of the overdazzled human race.

On a common Monday night in the middle of March in a year that ends in an odd numeral, London held a little gathering in Trafalgar Square.

Why? Well, apparently Monday night marked 500 days until the 2012 Summer Olympics. Apparently we know this because apparently somebody actually counted, carefully including the Leap Day.

The covers came off a giant clock that will remind grumbling commuters passing by that 378 days remain, and now 217, and then 89.

The clock does have "brushed stainless steel panelling." Uh oh.

If this happens at 500 days out, imagine what happens at zero, and in a world allegedly supposed to take up austerity.

In fairness, it can take a big chunk of living even to approach the Duke of Edinburgh's inspiring level of curmudgeonliness. Remembering the 1992 opening ceremony in the stadium in Barcelona, I confess to an embarrassing inability to stave off small tears at several junctures.

I just admired the brazen funkiness of the floor show, and quickly knew that any list of the most pressurised athletic feats would have to include the Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo lighting the Olympic flame by firing an arrow upwards and into the cauldron on one try.

All successors should have caved after that.

They did not, and they had moments. The overly huffy mocked Atlanta 1996 for its Southern-staple pickup tricks when they should have heaped praise on the levity.

Those remain fixed to memory above all else save for Muhammad Ali standing torch in hand.

Sydney 2000 had leviathan sea horses, floating jellyfish, aquatic fauna - and we all do need a brush-up in our knowledge of aquatic fauna - plus out-sized windmills and a flying child who probably has found the ground quite boring ever since. For utmost beauty, Cathy Freeman lit a ring of fire.

Athens 2004 had that centaur, that galaxy born from that Hera, a giant pool on the floor that drained two million litres of water in three minutes so the athletes could come in, and that still-bewildering DNA double helix. It deserved credit for just attempting to teach some biology.

Beijing 2008 dazzled in that yeah-yeah-we-know-we-know kind of way with the 2,008 drummers, the 897 movable type blocks celebrating the movable type press, a rendition of the Great Wall sprouting plum blossoms.

I think.

By then, it all had become so blurry with interminable dazzle that I sort of looked to London to drag us out of our craven over stimulation.

Now the overkill of Monday indicates London will aim bigger and louder, unless it is setting us up for some landmark irony. One can always hope.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae