Remembering the London Olympic

Remembering the London Olympics Opening Ceremony

With the Rio Olympics only a few weeks away, I thought I would reflect back on one of the favourite sporting memories of my life.

Remembering the London Olympic

Attending any Olympic event had always been a dream of mine, but it just seemed so distant – especially since South Africa was banned from competing for so many years.

I was living in England in 2011, so when the tickets were released I jumped at the chance to get my piece of the magic.

It was quite unfortunate how the UK Olympic authority managed the ticketing process. In order to fill the stadiums, they ran the ticket sales like a lottery. They randomly allocated tickets and took your money a full year before the event.

It’s the first time I ever got excited that money was taken from my account. When the announcements were made in 2012, I  found out that I had tickets to the greatest show on earth: the Olympic opening ceremony!

My wife and I arrived a few hours early to soak up the atmosphere and walk around the amazing stadium.  It was easy to see why they were over budget. Manicured lawns with fragrant local flowers, public spaces and colourful walkways swarmed the sprawling expanse. Everything was perfect.


The show begins…

We were slightly outnumbered by other supporters, but the adrenaline filled my veins with the anticipation of walking through the tunnel to take our seats. It is this, almost tangible atmosphere that differentiates the experience of attending live events from watching on even the best 4K Ultra HD TV.

You can hear the noise of the crowd as they enter and share the moment with you. It was even better than I had imagined.

We took our seats two hours before the event, but the stadium was beginning to fill up already. There were bands rehearsing and they put on a concert before the actual event was televised. There were hand-held, coloured light paddles for every seat and we were given instructions on how to use them in the main event.

As one body the crowd moved in rhythm with the music, swaying our electric paddles this way and that, up and down building to a crescendo of flashing lights. At the end of this frenzy they dropped giant flags from the back of the top seats over the entire crowd down to the bottom.

Each row passed them end to the one in front until we were all covered by it. As the flags sailed above our heads I realised we were now part of the spectacle and not spectators to it. That is what the Olympic ceremony can do that very few can match.

The Olympic rings being forged in the furnace of industry
The Olympic rings being forged in the furnace of industry

The opening ceremony was followed by the procession of the athletes. For the first time the crowd did not move as one, as each country’s athletes were greeted by their own fans as they walked around. It was a strange type of “Mexican wave” where parts of the crowd would jump up randomly as their team walked past.

I have never been as proud to be a South African as when our team came into the stadium and circled the track. I am not normally a nationalist – I believe the place where you were born should not be used to define any human being, but that night I was swept up in the euphoria of it all. It was brilliant!

The South African Team

The evening’s entertainment was completed with an explosion of fireworks, noise, Sulphur, lights, music, cheering and eventually exhaustion. The trip home was just as exhilarating, my brain reenacting some of the best moments.

On the train ride we compared these moments with people from Chile, Madagascar and Kazakhstan. A true world event that will live in my memory forever.

Only Sulphur and adrenaline lingered

I cannot recommend it strongly enough, so if you have the chance, get yourself to Rio this year and experience “the greatest show on earth”.

This post originally appeared on South African Traveller 193