12th June 2021
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4 Olympic Ceremonies That Changed The Live Show Industry

Olympic Ceremonies
By Koen Colmbijn

Since we’re just days away from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang it seems like it’s the appropriate time to celebrate the silent heroes of the Olympic Games, the show creators of the Olympic ceremonies. Time after time they take something ‘impossible’ and turn it into a challenge. We have seen Muhammad Ali lighting the flame, James Bond parachuting into the stadium together with the Queen of England herself, an archer shooting a flaming arrow over an enormous crowd and a rocket man flying around the arena with a jetpack.

As a show creator, I have always watched the ceremonies with great admiration and now, I would like to share 4 of my favourite moments in the history of the Olympic ceremonies.

1. The first real show in Squaw Valley – By Walt Disney, personally

Despite the fact that the Olympic Games were always widely celebrated, it was not until the Winter Games of 1960 that we first witnessed a real show. In a strange turn of events, Squaw Valley, a struggling ski resort in California with one sole resident, was chosen to be the host city of the games. It was the first time they needed substantial sponsoring from third parties and an Olympic village to house the athletes. It was also the first time they incorporated massive live entertainment in the ceremonies.

When asked, Walt Disney gladly accepted the honour of creating the ceremonies of the 1960 Olympics. Although Walt Disney was already world famous for his touch of magic, no one anticipated the show that followed. Gigantic statues, 30,000 balloons, the first flock of doves to be released during the games ever and a remake of the Olympic anthem were just the tip of the iceberg.

With the help of several stuntmen, 1322 musicians, 2358 choir members and 125 boy scouts they contributed to what was called “the greatest Games ever staged” and set the tone for the Olympic ceremonies as we know them today.

Olympic Ceremonies

2. Roasted doves in Seoul

2018 is not the first year in which the Olympics are held in South Korea. The 1988 Summer Olympics were hosted in Seoul. Back then, the ceremony shows were less theatrical than they are nowadays. But what happened still resonates in the ceremonies of today. As the Olympic flame entered the stadium a flock of white doves, symbolizing peace, were set free. What was supposed to be a beautiful message to the world turned into something quite cringy…

While airplanes were drawing the Olympic flag in the sky, four athletes with the Olympic flame were rising up to the Olympic cauldron. But some of the white doves were still sitting in the cauldron as it was lit on fire. Despite it being obligatory by the IOC Charter and using countless other animals, flocks of birds were somehow never to be seen again during the Olympic ceremonies.

Olympic Ceremonies

3. The inflatable revolution in London

The opening ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was one of exceptional quality. Anyone who saw it will forever remember the iconic moments that were put into this show. Apart from the 20 metres tall Voldemort roaming the stadium, the giant oak tree flying around or James Bond and the Queen parachuting into the stadium, there was one moment when I think my jaw actually hit the floor.

It is common to incorporate the host’s history into the ceremony. But I had never seen something more grandiose than the way they portrayed the transition to the industrial revolution.

As ‘workers’ were dancing around the pitch, six enormous smoking chimneys appeared out of nowhere and rose up to the ceiling in a matter of seconds.

This might be one of the most spectacular special effects that I have ever seen in a live show.

Furthermore, the use of gigantic inflatables combined with impressive technological resourcefulness presents an excellent solution for creating props that are used in such an enormous space as a stadium.

Olympic Ceremonies

4. Redemption in Sochi

I reckon this one is probably fresh in your memory as well. During the opening ceremony of the last Winter Olympics, there was an enormous winter scene in which five giant snowflakes were supposed to transform into the Olympic rings. But due to a technical malfunction, one of the snowflakes remained a snowflake. Naturally, the rings (or lack of) caused an explosion on the internet.

But it was neither the effect of social media nor the obvious malfunction that took me by surprise. It was the way in which they redeemed themselves with some healthy self-mockery. During the closing ceremony, a group of dancers formed the Olympic rings including the unopened one before opening up the last ring.

Looking forward to Pyeongchang

As I mentioned earlier, we are just days away from the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang and I for one will be glued to my seat, watching it together with my colleagues. Later this month I will be going to South Korea for the Olympics and of course, the closing ceremony. I’m excited to see some innovative live show elements and see further evolution of this unique genre of entertainment.


Also by Koen Colmbjin:

How To Build Up A Memorable Experience For Your Audience

How To Make Your Creative Team Thrive


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