This Friday, the fun gets underway in London as Great Britain presents its opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Always one of the biggest global television events, this year's presentation is expected to attract over one billion viewers from around the world.
The production is being helmed by Artistic Director Danny Boyle. Best known as a film director, Boyle created the awesome visual spectacle Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars in 2009, including Best Picture. Director Stephen Daldry, of Billy Elliot fame, is serving as the Executive Director of Ceremonies, while several big names from the live music field have been enlisted for production design, music and direction of the show.
The content of the ceremony is always a closely guarded secret. As usual, those involved in the ceremony have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements, and The Telegraph reports that Facebook and Twitter groups have been set up urging everyone to "Save the Surprise."
Nevertheless, in these days of instant social media, plenty of details have leaked.
Without getting into too many spoilers, here's an idea of what to expect during Friday's three-hour spectacle.
The ceremony starts at 9 pm in London. It will air live in Canada on CTV starting at 4 pm EDT and 1 pm PDT. In the US, NBC's coverage will be tape-delayed, beginning at 7:30 pm EDT on both coasts.
Kate, William and Harry at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant
British dignitaries and heads of state from all around the world will be well-represented in London.
According to CTV, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are all official ambassadors of Great Britain and will be attending many ceremonies and events, including the opening ceremony. William and Harry's father, Prince Charles, will also be in attendance, along with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
As Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II will have a major role in the proceedings.
According to The Independent, over 110 heads of state from around the world will attend at some point during the games, making it one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in history. Prime Minister David Cameron has planned a series of 17 separate business summits in an attempt to encourage foreign trade and help to recoup some of the £9 billion that Britain is estimated to have spent on the 2012 Games.
US First Lady Michelle Obama is confirmed for the opening ceremony, and will meet the Queen and the British Prime Minister's wife, Samantha.
London's Olympic Stadium will transform for the Opening Ceremony
Danny Boyle's spectacle is rumored to reach far and wide through British art and culture.
The Associated Press reports (via The Globe and Mail) that the overriding theme will be "Isles of Wonder," inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tempest," about a group of castaways on a magical island. The ceremony is said to spotlight children's literature both new and old, and wind its way through the ups and downs of British history, including "the regeneration of east London, where the Olympics are taking place, as parkland and a creative heartland, home to many artists, designers and Internet startups."
The show is said to open with a tribute to Britain's pastoral history, featuring a collection of livestock including 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, 70 sheep and three sheepdogs. Boyle has assured animal rights groups that no harm will come to the creatures:
Boyle said that "genuine care will be taken of the animals" who "will feature only in the very beginning of the show during daylight hours and will leave the stadium shortly after the 9pm start and before any large effects or noisy sequences take place."
David Beckham with the Olympic torch in Greece in May 2012
Despite being excluded from Great Britain's Olympic soccer team, David Beckham is expected to figure prominently in the opening ceremony.
According to The Telegraph, Beckham will have a role specially created for him, as a tribute to his commitment to Britain's Olympic bid dating back to when the games were awarded in Singapore in 2005.
Until he was left off the soccer team, he was widely rumored to be in consideration to light the cauldron to symbolize the opening of the games. Beckham has been gracious in his assertion that someone else is more deserving of the honour:
"I've always said, lighting the torch in the stadium is something that should be done by an Olympian... who has done incredible things for our country and won gold medals," he said.
"I'm sure whoever decides that, it will be an Olympian, but we'll have to wait and see."
Nevertheless, it looks like one of Britain's best-loved athletes will have his own special moment to shine on Friday.
Paul McCartney performing at Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005
Danny Boyle has reminded viewers that this is not a concert—it's about the athletes. But every opening ceremony has a strong musical component and this will be no different.
The official song of the games is "Survival" by Muse, which The Telegraph indicates will feature prominently throughout the Olympiad.
The musical directors for the opening ceremony are UK electronic duo Underworld, who have worked with Boyle since his 1996 breakout film, Trainspotting. The Associated Press says they'll be weaving together a musical patchwork that includes plenty of British classics, including Vangelis' iconic theme to the 1981 Olympic-themed movie Chariots of Fire.
Boyle is also said to be including young rappers like Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah to help represent the hardscrabble world of present-day east London. The ceremony is rumored to be closing with Sir Paul McCartney, who will lead the 80,000 spectators in a joyous singalong to "Hey Jude."
Team USA during the 2008 Beijing Parade of Nations
A total of 205 countries will participate in the 2012 Parade of Nations. As per tradition, Greece will lead the parade and host nation Great Britain will bring up the rear. The British flag will be carried by cyclist Chris Hoy of Scotland, who won three gold medals in Beijing and holds five Olympic medals in total, dating back to 2000 in Sydney.
Canada will march 36th, with their flag held by triathlete Simon Whitfield. He won gold in Sydney in the first-ever triathlon competition, and silver in Beijing.
Team USA has yet to announce their flag-bearer. They'll march 194th in the ceremony.
The Globe and Mail is reporting that Danny Boyle's ceremony is taking heat because of its late 9 pm start time, dictated because Boyle needs darkness for fireworks and other elements of his ceremony. It's actually typical for many athletes to miss the opening ceremony, either because they're training, resting or might not even have arrived yet in the host city.
Athletes whose training or competition venues are located some distance from the main Olympic complex also tend to miss out. Often, those who cannot attend the opening ceremony make a point of marching in the closing ceremony at the conclusion of the Games.
Queen Elizabeth II with IOC President Jacques Rogge
Once all of the athletes have assembled inside the stadium, a strict protocol of Olympic tradition will be observed, according to Rule 55 of the Olympic Charter.
President Sebastian Coe of the organizing committee will make a speech, followed by President Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee.
Rogge will introduce Queen Elizabeth II, who will declare the Games officially open.
At this point, the Olympic flag will be raised, the Olympic anthem will be played and the Olympic oaths will be taken by an athlete, an official and a coach.
The 2012 Olympic Torch
The Torch Relay is one of the most beloved traditions of the Olympic Games.
As always, the torch was lit in Greece from the original Olympic cauldron. According to the London 2012 website, the Olympic Flame was then transported to the UK, where it has passed through 8,000 hands on its 70-day tour on its way to London Olympic Stadium.
The final torchbearer and the lighter of the Olympic cauldron are positions of great prestige.
The Daily Mail speculates that the cauldron will be lit by Great Britain's Olympic hero, decathelete Daley Thompson, who also happens to be a good friend of the chairman of London's Olympic Organizing Committee, Sebastian Coe. Thompson is a double gold medalist, from the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and from Los Angeles in 1984.
The Associated Press reports (via CBC) that a popular public choice is Sir Steve Redgrave, a rower who won six Olympic medals in total, including five golds in five consecutive Games from 1984 to 2000.
Another possibility could be chairman Coe himself, who won four track medals, including two golds at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. He has made a point of stating that he was not involved in choosing who lights the cauldron.
There's one other question. Where will the cauldron be located? So far, the location has not been leaked, and speculation has been denied in an AP interview that the cauldron will be located in the giant red steel Orbit tower that rises next to the Olympic Stadium.
The lighting of the flame is always dramatic, and with all the speculation and mystery, Great Britain is doing its part to add extra fuel to the fire.
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