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Published: August 13th 2008
I had waited seven years for this moment - and with a sudden rush of activity, my dream was realised as an envelope was thrust into my hand. My eager fingers fondled the contents and brought them into view, where I could admire the glossy sheen of these warm-coloured tickets and the gleaming gold lettering which read “The Opening Ceremony Of The XXIX Olympic Games”. My fingers glided gently across the embossed surface of the numbers, “Aisle 123, Row 17, Seat 3” and it was a most satisfying and sensual feeling.
It was now just before 9am on 8 August, 2008 - and within 12 hours the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony was due to begin. Obtaining tickets for this event is so incredibly difficult - with the large allocations given to dignitaries, sponsors, team officials and media - it does not leave much remaining for the dedicated sports fan. When Beijing was awarded the Games in 2001, I made plans to attend to Opening Ceremony. So in order to secure this seat, in April 2007 I purchased a frightfully expensive accommodation package (where I spent more for these three nights then during my ten weeks in the Middle East and
Africa earlier this year!) from the official ticket agent (CoSport) to guarantee my place at this historic event.
This was to be my third Opening Ceremony - Barcelona and Sydney being the previous two occasions - and knowing the pandemonium that accompanies this event, we left for the venue seven hours before the start of the Ceremony. Another Olympics-fanatic, Ron (who hails from the quaint township of Market Drayton in the UK) had accompanied me to my earlier Olympic experiences; but while he sat on the other side of the world, my new Olympic buddy for Beijing would be Fi from my hometown of Brisbane in Australia. We arrived at the Olympic Green at 2pm, where for some daft reason, the gates were closed, thus ensuring an ever growing queue of frustrated spectators. However, one line was empty as it was uncovered and afforded no protection from the sun that struggled to pierce the thick Beijing smog. We took this front position, whilst sweating and waiting in these humid conditions…..
We had been forewarned that security would be very tight - and this foreboding proved accurate. In addition to temperature discomfiture, security staff informed people of the ridiculous
The cauldron is about to ignite...
Note the silhouette of Li Ning, the torchbearer.
new restrictions for those entering the stadium. Originally, bags able to fit under one’s seat were permissible, but that was now reduced to a maximum size of a large handbag, and this decision elicited much protest from the Chinese around me, as everyone had to unpack their bags and scrunch them as small as possible. Then a security person stated that my camera was considered “too professional” to be admitted - at which time I pointed to many Chinese near me who had similar sized cameras - the paranoia of the security was starting to make me paranoid! I gazed at my ticket again, a most impressive object, especially since each ticket contains a microchip that includes the name, passport details and photo of the ticketholder. So when the gates were eventually opened after a 100 minute wait, I placed my ticket on a scanner, whilst looking at a camera that compared my face with the photo on the microchip - all very advanced I must say.
After the ticket scan, I was confronted by the most thorough security search I have experienced - even more stringent than those in Beirut! Every single item was checked and I was
giving a full scan with a metal detector - whilst every pocket and bulge on my body was explored. There was some consternation expressed about my camera. I played a bit stupid here, and took a photo to show it was genuine, and hoped that they did not raise concerns about its size. A few tense moments ensued, but their hesitancy in English conversation saw me take the initiative by continuously asserting the words “camera, ok?!” and this was sufficient to eventually allow my camera equipment to pass intact. However, Fi was having a difficult time with her security person who was suspicious of the tickets she was carrying. For safety reasons, we carried all of our Olympic tickets, and so Fi had half of our 36 ticket allocation. The security officials were in disbelief that one person could have so many tickets - and Fi rightly answered “This is the Olympics!” Finally, she was also allowed to pass, and we entered the new and immaculately clean train station for our final journey to the Bird’s Nest.
We exited the station and were amongst the first to enter the Olympic Green - and at this early stage, there were
Waiting, waiting, waiting
100 minutes was spent here waiting for the gates to open
far more volunteers and security than spectators. This area was an immense expanse of wide boulevards and pedestrian areas - probably even bigger than Sydney. However, the whole scene appeared a trifle gloomy as the round orange sun shone meekly through the murky haze. After two hours of respite from the humidity in the air-conditioned sponsor display areas, we proceeded towards the Bird’s Nest, and the stadium became increasingly majestic the closer we approached. The spaciousness around the stadium and wide entry areas had obviously been designed with massive crowds in mind. There was a fine attention to detail here, such as the ground lights shaped like miniature Birds Nests. After posing for some obligatory photos, Fi and I entered gate E and were soon in our seats. The stadium was a masterpiece of architecture - with every seat seeming to command a superb vantage - very impressive for a venue that holds 90,000 spectators. Resting on our seats were the Ceremony spectator packs which contained torches and flags to be used during the appropriate parts of the performance. Thankfully, there was a complimentary bottle of water, which was essential given that the humidity within the enclosed stadium must have
reached nearly 100%.
There was the usual pre-Ceremony entertainment, which had already commenced when we arrived at 6pm, and it involved acrobats and other performers that were worthy of any show that you would normally pay good money to see. As the stadium slowly filled, the atmosphere slowly increased and the anticipation grew tremendously - my phone even received English and Chinese text messages from some unknown source welcoming me to the Opening Ceremony. At this stage, I proudly produced my boxing kangaroo flag, which I had hidden in my most obscure jacket pocket during the security check for fear that “non-participating nations” flags (which could include the kangaroo) would be confiscated. This flag had been with me at two previous Olympic Opening ceremonies, and there was no way it was going to miss a third!
With 30 minutes before the 8pm commencement, the pale-clad drummers that opened the Ceremony emerged and formed long, disciplined rows. The crowd cheered its approval and it was obvious that this was going to be something very, very special. The drummers beat the final 60 seconds with an amazing illuminated display and it was spine chilling as the magical time approached. Fireworks
Opening Ceremony has finally arrived!
Standing outside the entrance gate proudly displaying the ticket.
suddenly erupted in waves around the stadium, the explosions almost subduing the noise from the cheering and screaming people who were energetically shaking their torches. Tears formed in my eyes, it was such an incredible moment.
It is pointless to describe the spectacle that unfurled before my eyes, as my photos do this task far more justice. There were many moments when spectators waved their tinted torches, and the darkened stadium glowed with the light from tens of thousands of coloured stars, as if oversized jewels had been scattered across an enormous piece of black velvet. I had first witnessed this in Barcelona, and again in Sydney, and it is still as breathtaking a sight today as it was 16 years ago. The various segments of the show, from the drummers to the tai chi performers were all so beautifully crafted. Everything from the music, lighting and synchronisation melded seamlessly to provide a Ceremony of unsurpassed grandeur and expertise. Of the three Olympic Opening Ceremonies I have attended, this was definitely the finest.
Eventually the parade of nations commenced, and it made me realise that though I have now visited over 50 countries, there is so much more
Opening Ceremony Spectator Pack
Many items to play with in here!
of the world to explore, and my monies in future should go towards roaming more of the globe than enjoying the wonderful atmosphere of another Olympic games. There were extremely good receptions for Chinese Taipei (who tactfully marched under the flag of their national Olympic committee) Hong Kong and the USA, with Iraq, Russia, North Korea and Australia also receiving a strong welcome. When the Australians passed my position, I excitedly waved my boxing kangaroo flag and vociferously showed support for my country. Then one of the female team members at the end of the Australian contingent noticed my flag, pointed towards me and punched her fist in the air repeatedly. I responded in kind and screamed even louder - it felt good to be Australian! Of course, nothing quite compares to the arrival of the home team, and though it was more subdued then the reception of Spain and Australia in Barcelona and Sydney respectively, it was impossible not to be swept along with the impassioned support of those around me and I too was cheering and applauding the Chinese team as they completed their prolonged journey around the stadium.
Finally, it was time for the Olympic flame,
and we had a tremendous view of the entrance as it occurred a few metres from where we sat. Whoever had designed this segment had borrowed heavily from the Barcelona experience (where the archer’s lighting of the cauldron is yet to be bettered) because gentle choral music, azure lighting, and minimal announcements lulled one into a peaceful and serene mood. The last torch relay leg was a sublime piece of theatrics, the audience gasped as Li Ning was hoisted aloft and people around me sighed in wonder as he ethereally moved through air along the interior wall of the stadium; and when the flame encircled the cauldron and ignited a considerable flame into the balmy Beijing sky, the crowd erupted in jubilant and ecstatic celebrations - it is a moment that will remain with me forever.
The Ceremony was over, and whilst Jackie Chan sung a few songs during the post-Ceremony entertainment, the crowd slowly dispersed. The organisers had put on a phenomenal display as the expert eye of the Ceremony’s director, Zhang Yimou, whose ability to combine masses of disciplined performers with superb light and sound, ensured that China’s rich history was brought to life in such an
arresting fashion. This is the most incredible human spectacle I will ever attend, and it shall be another generation before the world witnesses another performance of this magnitude.
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