The greatest Olympic opening ceremony moments

While the Olympic Games are recognised as the most venerated sporting event on the planet, it’s not always the moments of athletic glory that are remembered best. In fact, it’s often the hosts’ opening gambit that steals the limelight. A fitting prelude to a jam-packed schedule of sport, the ceremony is the ideal opportunity to make a bold statement to the rest of the world. Following four years of anticipation, it’s only right to start the party with a bang.

A prime example is London’s opening extravaganza in 2012. It was pain-stakingly directed by the award-winning Danny Boyle over a two-year period and cost an eye-watering £27 million to produce. But was it all worth it? Of course it was! The blockbuster ceremony set an impressive precedent for years to come – capturing the imaginations of 900 million viewers worldwide.

Now with the Rio games finally here, what better time to revisit the best Olympic opening ceremony moments – ranging from the utterly spectacular to the downright bizarre. 

Atlanta 1996

A timely reminder of the late, great Muhammad Ali and the profound impact he had on the sporting world. Widely remembered as the most emotional moment in Olympic history, the iconic boxer-turned-activist was elected as a worthy torch-bearer for the 1996 event. It was made all the more poignant as it came shortly after his shocking diagnosis with Parkinson’s. Fighting adversity in defiant fashion, Ali held the torch aloft to rapturous applause. As you’d expect, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Torino 2006

Although the summer games tend to make the headlines, let’s not forget about the mighty Winter Olympics – particularly the 2006 edition in Torino. The ceremony culminated with a breath-taking performance courtesy of Italy’s greatest voice: Luciano Pavarotti. The stirring rendition of Nessum Dorma turned out to be the late tenor’s final public performance, but his music continues to live on in the hearts of millions. We defy you not to get goosebumps while watching this.

Barcelona 1992

The Catalan city really turned up the heat with this ingenious torch lighting ceremony in 1992. As Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo showcased true nerves of steel, the world watched on with a fixated glare and bated breath. Setting his arrow alight, the Spanish athlete sent the bolt soaring over the crowd and perfectly on course to spark the Olympic flame to life. Summed up in one word: triumphant!

Beijing 2008

While London’s ceremony played out like a Hollywood film, Beijing’s was an all-out assault of the senses. Easily the most visual in Olympic history, China truly seized its moment in the spotlight – eclipsing all ceremonies before it. Legions of performers helped create a seamless showcasing of the nation’s rich history through dance and music. The results were dazzling. Highlight of the evening saw 2,008 drummers take to the floor to deliver an immersive, epic performance.

London 2012

When your opening ceremony is this good, it’s awfully hard to pick out just one incredible moment. The legendary Paul McCartney may have concluded the evening with a medley of timeless anthems, but no one would ever have guessed the real star of the show. In a surreal turn of events, Daniel Craig’s James Bond heads to Buckingham Palace to pick up Queen Elizabeth II and escort her to the ceremony. That’s right, the Queen! The pair then go on to board a helicopter flight over the stadium, before parachuting into the Olympic Stadium to roars of applause. The cinematic skit perfectly encapsulated Britain’s tongue-in-cheek humour and helped unite a nation like never before.