The Top 10 Opening Ceremonies in Winter Olympics History

Jessica PaquetteFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

The Top 10 Opening Ceremonies in Winter Olympics History

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    The 2014 Sochi Games
    The 2014 Sochi GamesDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is the marquee event that sets the tone for one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world. 

    The kickoff to the Winter Games grows with grandeur each year, and past ceremonies have ranged from theatrical to thrilling to downright bizarre. Every city sets the bar just a little higher than the one that came before, and with each Olympics, the show gets even greater. 

    Here is a look at some of the greatest and most memorable opening ceremonies in history. The bar has been set high, and the world will watch with anticipation to see what Sochi has in store.

10. Chamonix, 1924

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    Chamonix Olympic Stadium
    Chamonix Olympic StadiumAssociated Press

    Though it lacked the technology and theatrics of many of the contemporary opening ceremonies, the inaugural Winter Games in 1924 still warrants a place on the list. 

    The event in Chamonix, France was a simple one and mainly focused on the taking of the Olympic oath. The event would grow leaps and bounds in the years to come to transform into the spectacle we know today. 

9. Sapporo, 1972

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    In 1972, the Sapporo Games marked the first time the Winter Olympics were held in Asia. No expense was spared in making the Winter Olympics a truly memorable event. 

    Sapporo had been originally selected as a host city for the 1940 Winter Olympics but forfeited that honor; ultimately the Games were cancelled. The celebration of hosting the event in 1972 marked an era for Japan. 

    Crowds from around the world cheered as speedskater Hideki Takada carried the torch up a flight of stairs and lit the Olympic cauldron.

8. Calgary, 1988

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    Steve Powell/Getty Images

    The Calgary Games opened up with a colorful celebration of the rich history of Canada, and the opening ceremony was largely viewed as a tremendous success. It was the first time the Games were held in Canada after six previous failed bids.

    The torch was carried for the final portion of the journey by a local seventh-grade student, Robyn Perry. The nation, and the world, cheered as she lit the flame. 

7. Lake Placid, 1980

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    The most memorable part of the 1980 Winter Games may have arguably been the "Miracle on Ice" when Team USA triumphed over the Soviet and Finland teams en route to a gold medal in hockey, but the opening ceremony was also a spectacular event.

    1980 marked the second time the Winter Olympics had been held in Lake Placid. The event was also held in upstate New York in 1932. 

    The ceremony was a nod to the storied past as well as a celebration of the present. That sentiment was echoed in the logo for the 1980 Winter Olympics, which depicted two cauldrons holding the Olympic rings. 

6. Albertville, 1992

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    The Albertville Games have the distinction of being the final Winter Olympics to be held the same year as the Summer Games. 

    The stars aligned for a spectacular event in France with a joyful tone that maintained exuberance while still mirroring the tranquil location where the games were set. The most memorable performance of the event may have been the "Air Ballet," where dozens of acrobats thrilled the audience with their performances above ground. 

5. Lillehammer, 1994

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    The Winter Games held in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994 marked the first time the Winter Olympics were held separately from the Summer Games. The opening ceremony was rich in Norwegian culture and pageantry, and Lillehammer was a fitting location for the Winter Olympics to take center stage. 

    The drama of the Games unfolded like a scene from a movie. Originally, ski flier Ole Gunnar Fidjestol was slated to carry the torch down a ski jump in what was supposed to be an unforgettable way to kick off the games. It was unforgettable—but not for the right reason for Fidjestol.

    He was injured during a practice run, and his backup Stein Gruben got the glory of making the iconic jump into Olympic history. 

4. Turin, 2006

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    2006 Olympic Opening Ceremony
    2006 Olympic Opening CeremonyClive Rose/Getty Images

    With the slogan of "Passion Lives Here," the 2006 opening ceremony was a celebration of all things Italy. Held before a capacity crowd, no expense was spared in making this Olympic kickoff one of the most memorable in history. 

    From the iconic Sophia Loren participating in the carrying of the torch to some of the greatest names in Italian sporting history playing a role in the show, the event was full of what Italy is famous for: passion.

3. Nagano, 1998

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    The theme of the 1998 Nagano Games was one of world peace, and that sentiment echoed throughout the opening ceremony. That tone was set immediately when Chris Moon, an anti-land mine activist, carried the torch into the stadium flanked by children who were wearing the colors of the flags representing all of the participating countries. 

    In a moving display of unity, conductor Seiji Ozawa led Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" with choruses coming in from five separate continents. 

    Though the technology seems outdated now, it was revolutionary at the time and provided a dramatic finale to Nagano's opening ceremony.

2. Vancouver, 2010

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    The Olympians from the Republic of Georgia
    The Olympians from the Republic of GeorgiaMark Baker/Associated Press

    Although the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver were marred by the tragic death of a young luge athlete from the Republic of Georgia just hours before the opening ceremony kicked off, the event went on, and the fellow participants honored their fallen comrade.

    While the opening ceremony did take a somber tone, it served as a reminder of the great risk and sacrifice all of the Olympians go through.

    Wayne Gretzky, along with fellow athletes Rick Hansen, Catriona Le May and Steve Nash, were enthusiastically received as they lit the cauldron.  

1. Salt Lake City, 2002

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    Held just months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Salt Lake Games were both a remembrance and a show of world-wide unity and strength. From start to finish, the show was a spectacular celebration of the heart and fire inside each athlete. 

    The opening ceremony was highlighted by a stirring rendition of "God Bless America" by NYPD officer Daniel Rodriguez. Although the rest of the ceremony was a modern, impressive performance, this simple song resonated with the viewers. 

    The Salt Lake Games reign supreme as the top opening ceremony in history so far because of their ability to meld a respect for the past with innovation of the future.