A Very Fine Opening for the Olympics

  • Share
  • Read Later

A member of Spain's Olympic team celebrates during the opening ceremony

Usually the opening ceremony for the Olympics is a bit like Oscar night: You suffer though a lot of pretentious, self-indulgent schmaltz just so you can enjoy a couple of interesting moments that might be memorable and even historic. Like the Oscars, the ceremony can drag on and on: parading 10,000 athletes from 199 countries, Albania through Zimbabwe, makes for a long evening. And that spectacle can become as tedious as actors thanking their agents, except that the athletes dress more exotically.

But this year the Aussies put on an Olympic show that makes you think that Oscar night might be better contracted out to Sydney-siders. Well, OK, there were a couple of sappy moments: the music sounded like retreaded ABBA, and the Olympic Hymn, sung in Greek, is a bore. But for the most part the whole event showed great flair and — most critically — a fine sense of humor. Given the opportunity to tell its national story to 3.7 billion television viewers around the world, few nations would include a segment celebrating the postwar suburban boom featuring funny-looking guys and gals in flowered shirts pushing lawn mowers. Or a whole elaborate tribute to tin sheeting and crazy inventions. If its Olympic show is any measure, Australia has great confidence in its national identity.

But the most infectious aspect of the whole evening was the fun everyone was having putting it on for the world. There were smiles all around as the thousands of dancers, singers and band members exited the floor of the massive Olympic stadium after doing their bit. Kids gave high fives to each other. This was so cool and so fun — even if it was damn hard work.

One of the most telling moments came when, in a break in the action before the start of the main program, the people in the stadium began doing a spirited wave. It was totally spontaneous and unscripted. Millions upon millions had been spent carefully — and brilliantly — choreographing the evening — and the crowd decides to take things in their own hands and entertain themselves with the wave. Forget all the stuffed suits at the IOC, forget all the obnoxious corporate sponsors with their tour guides, forget all the phony, exaggerated drama the TV people promote. The Australians are taking control of the games and are having a lot of fun. It's refreshing and real.

And a hell of a good omen for the next 16 days of the Games.