By Richard Moore. Last Updated: 28/07/12 9:11am
Danny Boyle appeared in the centre of the Olympic Stadium before the start of the opening ceremony to tell us that the events about to unfold - all the product of his imagination - were a mere 'prelude' to the main event, the sport.
Nobody would disagree with that, but what an appetiser to the London Games was served up over the next three hours.
Boyle's £27m extravaganza was a show that harnessed and expressed the positive mood that seems to have spread "like a benign virus" - to use Boris Johnson's description - in the days leading up to the Olympics, while avoiding some of the potential pitfalls of opening ceremonies. Which is to say that it wasn't naff, cringeworthy or kitsch.
It also managed a neat trick: it was energetic, rollicking and visually spectacular, and at the same time - from the brief burst of the EastEnders intro, to James Bond, to the starring role for 1,200 NHS nurses, to Rowan Atkinson reprising Mr Bean - quintessentially British.
And it tapped into the zeitgeist from the off, or just before the off, when the identity of the man chosen to ring the bell, and get the show going, was revealed. This was a late addition, surely, for the bell boy was none other than Bradley Wiggins, just five days after he became Britain's first winner of the Tour de France. I can only hope that whoever was originally lined up for this job was not too disappointed to be cast aside at the last minute.
In a yellow T-shirt, Wiggins strode to the edge of the platform, waved, made an "I am not worthy" gesture as close to 80,000 people roared their appreciation, and then rang the bell with the kind of controlled power that won him the Tour. He was then whisked back to the Foxhills hotel in Surrey as quickly as possible, since he had rather an important job to do for Mark Cavendish in Saturday's road race.
Then the ceremony entered story-telling mode. The set was lush and bucolic, glowing a luminescent green under the stadium lights, like the mother of all model railway sets or something out of a Thomas Hardy novel.
"The best Olympic ceremony of all time."
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Pandemomium - the self-explanatory title of one of the early scenes - was the highlight, with its kaleidoscope of British history and social commentary, whizzing through the industrial revolution and into the early part of the 20th century, before ending with the five Olympic rings suspended above the stadium, glowing orange and appearing to drip molten lava.
It was stunning, but the Boyle trademark, as well as the pace and the energy, was the soundtrack: from Mike Oldfield's chiming bells to familiar tunes and anthems that bounced along to a relentless beat, and which made it seem at times like a scene from a Boyle film.
It was also the music that gave the whole evening an overarching theme, linking Boyle's stories of Britain's heritage to the moment, finally, when the teams were introduced, led as always by Greece, where the ancient Olympics were born. Here they marched into the stadium to the Chemical Brothers.
Young athletes light cauldron
Yet Boyle was right. The performers, including the thousands of nurses, children, dancers and musicians, as well as the likes of Kenneth Branagh, JK Rowling and Mike Oldfield, were all support acts.
The atmosphere was ratcheted up as the athletes began to appear, and then ratcheted back down again as the crowd realised that after ten minutes we were still on B, and calculated just how long the procession would take. There were highlights: Usain Bolt carrying the flag for Jamaica, Maria Sharapova leading Russia, Caster Semenya leading South Africa and the basketball star, Yi Jianlian, almost towering out of the stadium as he led China.
But it was all building towards the entrance of the final team. The hosts, led by Sir Chris Hoy, were last into the arena. And as if they weren't already moved by the occasion, they had a guard of honour of schoolchildren as they made their way towards the Olympic Stadium.
Hoy had the opportunity to act as a flagbearer once before, but he turned it down. It was at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, when he and his fellow track cyclist Craig MacLean were elected by their fellow athletes in the Scottish team. On that occasion Hoy stepped aside in order to let his friend MacLean, who is a few years older than him, have the honour.
Ten years on, Hoy had his chance. He entered the stadium at the head of the British congregation, just as David Bowie's Heroes began to play, and the cycling Knight, famous for switching off his emotions when competing, was clearly moved by the occasion, shedding a tear or two as he completed his lap of the track.
"So many messages... Thank you for all the kind words. Tonight is going to be something special, hope you enjoyed it."
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"Welcome home to London," said Sebastian Coe as he and the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, addressed the world. That raised a cheer, but not as big as that which followed Rogge's comment that these will be "the first games in history in which all the Olympic teams have female athletes."
It all left just one question: who would bring the Olympic torch into the stadium and light the cauldron? The smart money in the morning had seemed to be on Sir Roger Bannister, but no. Then it seemed to be the man most fancied to be given the honour from the outset.
Sir Steve Redgrave collected the torch from Jade Bailey, a promising young footballer, who had in turn collected it from David Beckham. Beckham and Bailey had carried it up the Thames on a speedboat, meeting Redgrave at Limehouse Cut, within a short jog of the stadium.
Actually, it was quite a long jog, and in the meantime there was more music, some clapping, and the Olympic oaths, and then, finally, Redgrave was among us, and so was the Olympic flame. But he didn't light the cauldron. Instead, with the help of some fellow old Olympians, he passed the flame to seven young athletes, who lit it together.
There remained, after Paul McCartney had played the closing Hey Jude, only one thing to say. Let the Games begin.
DOB: 17/5/1956 Event: Boxing Medals: 1 gold Flag: USA
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