25 Coolest Moments in Olympic Opening Ceremony History

Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

The 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea kick off February 9. To celebrate, we're looking back on the most epic moments from opening ceremonies past. From jet packs to a parachuting queen, here's what South Korea has to follow when they welcome the world this Friday.

1. LOS ANGELES 1984 // OLYMPIC THEME DEBUTS

Composer John Williams.
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Today, it's impossible to hear John Williams's "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" without thinking of the Olympics. But no one had heard the composition before it debuted at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. That year, the score reached instant icon status and has been used as the theme for every Olympics held since.

2. LONDON 2012 // THE QUEEN JUMPS FROM A HELICOPTER

Person jumping from helicopter.
Lars Baron, Getty Images

What's more British than James Bond and the Queen? Her majesty and Agent 007 jumping from a helicopter to kick off the 2012 London Olympics. Though Queen Elizabeth II and Daniel Craig did appear together in footage that aired before the jump, the actual skydiving was done by stuntmen.

3. BEIJING 2008 // 2008 DRUMMERS

Drummers in a stadium.
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

A decade after the fact, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing games is still regarded as one of the greatest in Olympics history. It's hard to narrow down the four-hour event to just a few memorable moments, but the synchronized drum performance definitely makes the list. As a nod to the date, 2008 musicians filled the stadium to play the fou, a 4000-year-old Chinese percussion instrument. The choreographed precision of the drummers created a stunning spectacle when viewed from above.

4. ATLANTA 1996 // MUHAMMAD ALI CARRIES THE TORCH

Muhammad Ali with torch.
Michael Cooper, Allsport/Getty Images

One of the most anticipated moments of the 1996 opening ceremony was the reveal of who would light the centennial torch—and the appearance of Muhammad Ali in that role was met with approval and awe. His iconic torch-lighting took place 36 years after he earned his gold medal and 12 years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The surprise moment was among the most memorable of the events, but it almost didn't happen—the tower leading up to the torch would have been too difficult for Ali to climb in his condition. Officials worked around that by having him light a fuse that led up to the cauldron instead.

5. NAGANO 1998 // INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE OF "ODE TO JOY"

Olympic athletes.
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

In 1998, video-chatting with someone across the globe in real time was still considered stuff of the future. That's part of what made the rendition of Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" at the opening ceremony of the 1998 Winter Olympics so impressive. As an orchestra performed live in Nagano, choruses in Berlin, Cape Town, Beijing, New York, and Sydney joined in via satellite feeds. On top of wowing audiences, the moment served as a meaningful symbol of world unity.

6. BARCELONA 1992 // AN ARCHER LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Man with flaming arrow.
Pau Barrena, AFP/Getty Images

Though opening ceremonies vary wildly from year to year, the lighting of the torch is one theme they all share. This portion can be straightforward, but in 1992 Barcelona decided to get creative. The cauldron was ignited by Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shooting a flaming arrow across the stadium. In terms of flair, no torch lighting has topped it since.

7. SYDNEY 2000 // 120 HORSEMEN

Sydney opera house.
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

The opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney was one of the most cinematic in history, and it was the very first moment that set the tone. A lone horseman came galloping into the empty stadium, and at the crack of his whip 120 more people riding horses and holding Olympic flags followed him in.

8. ALBERTVILLE 1992 // THE AIR BALLET

Air ballet performance.
Pascal Rondeau, Allsport/Getty Images

The opening ceremony of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France channeled a Cirque du Soleil vibe. This was most apparent in the air ballet sequence. Dancers strapped into ribbons twirled and floated around a giant pole in the middle of the arena. The performance is regarded as one of the most mesmerizing in any opening ceremony.

9. LILLEHAMMER 1994 // SKIING WITH THE ETERNAL FLAME

Skier holding torch.
Bob Martin, Allsport/Getty Images

The torch lighting at the 1994 Winter Olympics was an exciting display of athleticism. It started with Norwegian skier Stein Gruben skiing down a steep slope and clearing a 70-meter jump all while holding the eternal flame. Olympic bronze medalist Gunnar Fidjestø was originally tasked with the stunt, but he injured himself in a practice jump two days before the event.

10. ATHENS 2004 // BJÖRK'S DRESS

Bjork performing.
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

Björk debuted her single "Oceania" at the opening ceremony of the summer games in Athens. The song is noteworthy on its own, but what really made her performance special was her giant dress that doubled as a projection screen. As the fabric rippled across the stadium, it displayed an image of the world map.

11. CALGARY 1988 // SEVENTH-GRADER LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Person lighting Olympic torch.
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

The cauldron that holds the eternal flame has often been lit by superstar athletes, but in 1988, Canada chose 12-year-old Robyn Perry to complete the final leg of the torch's journey. The young lady was an amateur figure skater at the time.

12. LOS ANGELES 1984 // JETPACK FLIGHT

Man flying in jet pack.
Tony Duffy, Getty Images

One of the most futuristic stunts in any Olympic opening ceremony took place 34 years ago. Bill Suitor dazzled spectators when he zipped around the Los Angeles stadium in a real, functioning jetpack. He landed the gig by working as a test pilot on the jetpack project for Bell Aerospace. He told CNN in 2007 that trying to navigate the rocket belt felt like "trying to stand on a beach ball in a swimming pool."

13. BEIJING 2008 // BEIJING FIREWORKS SHOW

Fireworks over Olympic stadium.
Shaun Botterill, Getty Images

Another memorable scene from Beijing's opening ceremony was the epic fireworks show. Colorful pyrotechnics were launched from the rim of the stadium as more fireworks outside lit up the sky above the city. It was later revealed that many of the fireworks that aired in the ceremony were edited in with computers because it would have been too difficult to capture every explosion live.

14. MOSCOW 1980 // HUMAN PYRAMIDS

Athletes on a field.
Alexander Makarov, Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA 3.0

The 1980 Moscow Olympics were controversial from the beginning, with several major nations boycotting the games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That didn't stop the Soviet Union from putting on a dazzling show for the opening ceremony. If attendees remember one spectacle, it's likely the colorful, human pyramids that filled the arena for the event's grand finale.

15. SEOUL 1988 // OLYMPIC RINGS SKYDIVERS

Olympic flag.
Getty Images/Getty Images North America

The five Olympic rings have been a part of the opening ceremony since the Antwerp games in 1920, but in 1988 they were seen like never before. Skydivers dressed in the event’s traditional colors formed the Olympic rings in midair before parachuting into the stadium. It would have likely been the most memorable sight from that year if it hadn't also included doves catching fire in the eternal flame.

16. SOCHI 2014 // RUSSIAN POLICE SING "GET LUCKY"

Russian officers singing.
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Like the Moscow Olympics, the 2014 games Russia hosted in Sochi weren't without controversy. But at least the opening ceremony gave us one of the more delightfully bizarre moments in the history of the event: a chorus of Russian police officers covering Daft Punk's international hit "Get Lucky." The cops were members of the Russian Red Army Choir.

17. ATHENS 1906 // FIRST PARADE OF NATIONS

Athens Olympics.
Getty Images

The Olympics as we know them today were just starting to take shape in the early 20th century. The Athens games in 1906 included the first parade of nations, one of the most recognizable opening ceremony traditions. The procession of teams carrying their home countries' flags introduced a theme of national pride to the Olympics that's still part of its DNA today.

18. BARCELONA 1992 // FREDDIE MERCURY'S "BARCELONA"

Barcelona Olympics opening ceremony.
Michel Gangne, AFP/Getty Images

Freddie Mercury died less than a year before the games took place, but his memory was very much alive at the Olympics opening ceremony in Barcelona in 1992. The Queen frontman was approached in the 1980s to pen a theme song for the event to sing with Barcelona-based opera singer Montserrat Caballé. The result, "Barcelona," became one of the best known Olympic songs, but Mercury was never able to sing it at the opening ceremony as planned; a video of an earlier Mercury and Caballé performance was played instead.

19. TOKYO 1964 // HIROSHIMA BABY LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Man carrying olympic torch.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The torch lighting at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo is memorable for its poignancy. That year marked the first time the games were held in an Asian city, and Tokyo wanted to open the games with something that symbolized progress toward world peace and their resilience following World War II. Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the same day the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city, was chosen to carry the torch to the cauldron.

20. RIO 2016 // GISELLE'S CATWALK

Giselle walking at Olympic opening ceremony.
Franck Fife, AFP/Getty Images

Few people have the star power to steal a show by simply walking in a straight line, but that's exactly what Gisele Bündchen accomplished at Rio's opening ceremony. All eyes were on the Brazilian supermodel as she strutted across the stadium's 400-foot catwalk. But she may have been enjoying her time in the spotlight a little too much—her pace was so slow that an entire scheduled segment had to be cut.

21. LONDON 2012 // MR. BEAN SHOWS UP

Rowan Atkinson looking at wrist.
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

London turned the opening ceremony of the 2012 games into a quirky ode to British pop culture. While there were plenty of big-name appearances that night, one of the most pleasant surprises came from Rowan Atkinson, the actor best known for his character Mr. Bean. The comedian playing "Chariots of Fire" along with the London Symphony Orchestra might go down as one of the most hilarious moments in opening ceremony history.

22. SYDNEY 2000 // UNDERWATER EXTRAVAGANZA

Sydney Olympics opening ceremony.
Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP/Getty Images

With 16,000 miles of coastline, Australia is hugely influenced by the sea. The nation celebrated its neighboring oceans by transforming the Olympic stadium into a massive aquarium during the opening ceremony. Colorful puppets of fish, eels, and jellyfish floated through the space as the arena floor filled with rippling blue waves. In a country known for the world's most famous coral reef, it was a fitting tribute.

23. MOSCOW 1980 // MASSIVE CARD STUNT

Picture of bear in stadium crowd.
AFP/Getty Images

It's a trick you've seen at many sporting events, but for the Olympics, it must happen on a much larger scale. At the opening ceremony in Moscow, crowd members simultaneously held up hundreds of cards to form an image of Misha the Bear, that year's Olympic mascot.

24. TURIN 2006 // PAVAROTTI'S FINAL PERFORMANCE

Italian opera singer.
Getty Images/Stringer

Pavarotti didn't stay out of the limelight for long after retiring on his 70th birthday in 2005. He made an appearance at the opening ceremony of the Turin Winter Olympics and sang the aria "Nessun Dorma." He died the following year.

25. MONTREAL 1976 // TEEN ATHLETES LIGHT THE CAULDRON

Two teens stand next to the Olympic cauldron.
Tony Duffy, Getty Images

The Olympic cauldron was ignited by two teens at the start of the 1976 Montreal winter games. The lighters, 16-year-old track star Stéphane Préfontaine and 15-year-old Toronto runner Sandra Henderson, were chosen to present Canada as a young, progressive nation.

15 Animal Names That Can Be Used As Verbs

iStock.com/fotojagodka
iStock.com/fotojagodka

People can go fishing, rabbit on incessantly, dog one another, and horse around. But because of their usefulness in completing burdensome work, horse has also been used in (originally naval) slang since the mid-19th century to mean “to work to the point of exhaustion”—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to drive or urge at work unfairly or tyrannically.” But horses aren’t the only animals whose names can be “verbed.” From turtles to tigers, you can drop any one of these 15 creatures into your everyday conversation.

1. Bulldog

No one is entirely sure why bulldogs are called bulldogs, with different theories pointing to everything from their bull-like stature to their bullish faces to the fact that they might once have been bred to bait bulls. Whatever the origin, the bulldog’s strength and its robust, resilient behavior means that you can use its name as a verb meaning “to attack roughly,” or “to wrestle to the ground.”

2. Tiger

A tiger
iStock.com/konmesa

If you tiger, then you walk to and fro, like a tiger pacing in a cage. If you tiger something, then you paint or mark it with contrasting stripes.

3. Spider

Jumping spider
iStock.com/elthar2007

As well as being used simply to mean “to creep” or “to move like a spider,” if you ensnare or entrap something, or else cover it in a cobweb-like pattern, then you spider it.

4. Cat

British shorthair cat with expressive orange eyes
iStock.com/Leesle

Because the cathead is the horizontal beam at the bow of a ship that’s used to raise an anchor, the word cat has a number of nautical uses as a verb, including “to lift an anchor from the water,” “to secure an anchor,” and “to draw an anchor through the water.” But because shooting the cat was 19th century slang for being sick from drinking too much, you can also use cat to mean “to vomit.”

5. Vulture

White-backed vulture
iStock.com/EcoPic

Vultures’ grim feeding habits and their remarkable flying ability have given the word two meanings as a verb in English. Feel free to use it to mean “to eat voraciously” or “to tear at your food,” or else “to descend steadily through the air.”

6. Owl

Owl in flight
iStock.com/WhitcombeRD

Owling (as well as being a short-lived social media craze) was once the name given to the crime of smuggling sheep and wool from England to the continent—a crime so-called because the nefarious “owlers” carried out their crimes at night. That might not be the most useful of words these days of course, so feel free to also use owl to mean “to act wisely, despite not knowing anything.”

7. Shark

It’s easy to presume that the use of shark as a verb to mean “to act like a predator” (which is the same shark as in loanshark, incidentally) derives from the deadly sea creatures. In fact, it might be the opposite: Both meanings of the word shark date back to the late 16th century, but it’s possible that the verb shark is the older of the two. If so, it’s possible that it comes from the earlier word shirk (in the sense of using deceit or trickery to avoid work) or else a northeastern French word, cherquier, which was often used in a phrase that essentially meant “to sponge of others” or “to act as a parasite.” So how did sea-dwelling sharks come to be called sharks? It’s possible the deceitful sharks gave their name to the menacing creatures, or else the two could be completely unrelated—and, thanks to a sea battle off the Yucatan peninsula in 1569, shark could in fact be a Mayan word.

8. Monkey

Chimpanzee looking surprised
iStock.com/photomaru

As well as meaning “to play the fool” or “to behave playfully”—as in “monkeying around”—monkey, like ape, can also be used to mean “to mimic” or “to copy someone’s movements or actions.”

9. Turtle

If a boat “turns turtle,” then it capsizes and flips over, so that it looks like a turtle’s domed shell floating atop the water. Because of that, to turtle something is to turn it upside down.

10. Snail

Burgundy snail
iStock.com/AlexRaths

For obvious reasons, snail has been used to mean “to move slowly” since the late 16th century, but because of the snail’s coiled shell, you can also use snail to mean “to draw or carve a spiral,” or “to roll into a spiral shape.”

11. Porcupine

Porcupine walking
iStock.com/ser-y-star

When your hair stands on end, feel free to say that it porcupined.

12. Canary

Canary birds take their name from the Canary Islands, which, somewhat confusingly, take their name from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” But in the 16th and 17th centuries, the canary was also the name of an energetic dance inspired by a traditional dance performed by the natives of the Canary Islands. And because of that, you can also use the word canary as a verb meaning “to dance in a lively fashion.”

13. Earwig

Earwig
iStock.com/Mr_Fu

Earwigs are so-called because they were once (thankfully erroneously) thought to crawl inside people’s ears as they slept. Through association with someone whispering clandestinely into someone’s ear, in the late 18th century eavesdroppers and people who seeked to secretly influence others became known as earwiggers—and so to earwig is to do precisely that.

14. Pig

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot
iStock.com/Fotosmurf03

Pig has been used to mean “to give birth” since as far back as the 15th century in English (a fairly uncomplimentary allusion to a pregnant sow delivering a litter of piglets). But slightly less depreciatively, the living habits of pigs mean that it can also be used to mean “to huddle together,” or else “to live or sleep in crowded or dirty conditions.”

15. Dingo

A dingo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Because of their stereotypically sneaky behavior, to dingo on someone meant “to let down” or “to betray” them in 1930s Australian slang, while to dingo meant simply “to shirk” or “to back out of something at the last minute.”

This list first ran in 2016.

10 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the book—which was published in the U.S. on February 18, 1885—is a subversive confrontation of slavery and racism. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history. 

1. Huckleberry Finn first appears in Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Twain’s novel about his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and “son of the town drunkard,” Pap Finn. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Despite this, the other children “wished they dared to be like him.” Huck also appears in Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad, as well as the unfinished Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians.  

2. Huckleberry Finn may be based on Mark Twain's childhood friend.

Twain said Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood playmate whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” he wrote in Autobiography. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had." 

However, Twain may be exaggerating here. In 1885, when the Minneapolis Tribune asked who Huck was based on, Twain admitted it was no single person: “I could not point you out the youngster all in a lump; but still his story is what I call a true story.”

3. It took Twain seven years to write the book.

Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts. The first was in 1876, when Twain wrote 400 pages that he told his friend he liked “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn” the manuscript. He stopped working on it for several years to write The Prince and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi.

In 1882, Twain took a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, with a stop in Hannibal. It must have inspired him, because he dove into finishing Huckleberry Finn. In August 1883, he wrote: “I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days; I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884. 

4. Like Huck, Twain changed his view of slavery.

Huck, who grows up in South before the Civil War, not only accepts slavery, but believes that helping Jim run away is a sin. The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up. 

As a child, Twain didn’t question the institution of slavery. Not only was Missouri a slave state, his uncle owned 20 slaves. In Autobiography, Twain wrote, “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once, and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.”

At some point, Twain’s attitudes changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and housed Frederick Douglass.

5. Emmeline Grangerford is a parody of a Victorian poetaster.

Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called them tributes.” Along with bad poetry, Emmeline paints “crayons” of dramatic subjects, such as a girl “crying into a handkerchief” over a dead bird with the caption, "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas."

6. A PENIS DRAWING ALMOST RUINED THE BOOK.

Twain, who ran his own printing press, hired 23-year-old E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition of Huckleberry Finn. Right as the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The engraving shows Uncle Silas talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while a crude penis bulges from his pants. 

According to Twain’s business manager Charles Webster, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. If the full run had been sent out, Webster said, Twain’s “credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.” You can view Kemble’s original illustrations here.

7. Many consider Huckleberry Finn the first American novel.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in Green Hills Of Africa. “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." 

While this statement ignores great works like Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn was notable because it was the first novel to be written in the American vernacular. Huck speaks in dialect, using phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or "it warn’t no time to be sentimentering.” Since most writers of the time were still imitating European literature, writing the way Americans actually talked seemed revolutionary. It was language that was clear, crisp, and vivid, and it changed how Americans wrote. 

8. The end of the book is often considered a cop-out.

A major criticism of Huckleberry Finn is that the book begins to fail when Tom Sawyer enters the novel. Up until that point, Huck and Jim have developed a friendship bound by their mutual plight as runaways. We believe Huck cares about Jim and has learned to see his humanity. But when Tom Sawyer comes into the novel, Huck changes. He becomes passive and doesn’t even seem to care when Jim is captured.

To make matters worse, it turns out that Jim’s owner has already set him free, and that Huck’s abusive dad is dead. Essentially, Huck and Jim have been running away from nothing. Many, including American novelist Jane Smiley, believe that by slapping on a happy ending, Twain was ignoring the complex questions his book raises.

9. The book is frequently banned.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachussets in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books.

The objections are usually over n-word, which occurs over 200 times in the book. Others say that the portrayal of African Americans is stereotypical, racially insensitive, or racist.

In 2011, Stephen Railton, a professor at University of Virginia, published a version of the book that replaced that offensive word with “slave.” Soon after appeared The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, where the word was replaced with “hipster.” The book's description says, “the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool.”

10. Twain had some thoughts about the book's censorship.

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as librarian wrote Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said 'sweat' when he should have said 'perspiration.'" Here’s Twain’s reply: 

DEAR SIR:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. 

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

S. L. Clemens

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