First night: Opening ceremony, BBC1

A world united in asking: What the hell does it all mean?
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The Independent Online

"Athens is ready and the Olympic games are coming home" declared Sue Barker, firing the starting gun on the armchair sportsman's greatest test of stamina and endurance - the marathon of the Olympics opening ceremony.

"Athens is ready and the Olympic games are coming home" declared Sue Barker, firing the starting gun on the armchair sportsman's greatest test of stamina and endurance - the marathon of the Olympics opening ceremony.

The dubious had predicted that it might well involve an unchoreographed parade of bulldozers and brickies. The disillusioned had suggested that the largest team present at the 2004 games - the 600-plus members of the anti-doping agency - deserved their own procession. But only the most grudging viewer could have denied that on the night the stadium was ready and that it looked magnificent - its flooded arena reflecting the lights waved by a 70,000 strong audience.

It wasn't exactly an unalloyed triumph for the Greek organisers - the question-marks over drug-tests for Konstadinos Kederis and Katerina Thanou having tarnished their achievement in getting to the starting blocks before the race was due to begin. But while that mystery may have dented Greek national morale, it proved a godsend for the BBC - allowing them to raise the huge issue of doping without being accused of spoiling the party.

Jacques Rogge appeared, insisting with slightly febrile intensity that every drug cheat exposed was good news for sport. "The more we catch", he said, "the better it is" - a robust view that might not be shared by television executives, who would presumably like at least a handful of competitors left to fill the next 16 days of airtime.

At home nobody needed drugs, because in keeping with Olympic tradition the opening ceremony was the usual hallucinogenic mix of national symbols and Unesco piety. It began with a giant paper boat, fortunately safely beached before the lake ignited into the linked rings of the Olympic symbol.

"The ancient gives life to the latest games of the modern" said Barry Davies, who had clearly enhanced his own performance with an Open University course in Greek history. He could tell his Cycladic from his Mycenean and that figure perched painfully on a giant sugarcube, he explained, represented the rise of philosophy. "Man has become a logical, spiritual being searching for knowledge" he murmured.

He caught the mood perfectly. All over the world, viewers were asking themselves: "What the hell does it all mean?"

Then it was all fireworks and flames and you wondered whether the action replays had started early. Frankly, if you made it all the way through, you're match fit and ready for anything.

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