Olympics Summer

McCartney, Queen highlight Olympics opening ceremony

With 15 simple words near the end of nearly four hours of British celebration, Queen Elizabeth performed the deed everyone had come to the stadium on Friday to hear.

More than 10,000 athletes march in colourful, fun atmosphere

Triathlete Simon Whitfield carries the flag for Team Canada as the Canadians enter the stadium during the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Games in London on Friday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

With 15 simple words near the end of nearly four hours of British celebration, Queen Elizabeth performed the deed everyone had come to the stadium on Friday to hear.

"I declare open the Games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era."

And now, let the real games begin.

Somewhere just south of 10,000 athletes, depending on how many chose to stay away because of Saturday events or distance, took in the ceremony, designed by film director Danny Boyle. It began with the classic music of Edward Elgar's arrangement of Parry's Jerusalem and ended with Paul McCartney on Hey Jude.

Canada's team entered about halfway through, led by triathlete Simon Whitfield, and they were resplendent in red and white track jackets with CANADA across the front, over khaki pants and white running shoes.

No hats.

It was a rocking, rollicking, sometimes quiet and brooding ceremony that touched on pretty much every aspect of British culture and history from medieval times (what, no Battle of Hastings and Magna Carta?) to modern life.

All of it opened with a film that took visitors up the River Thames in a dizzying trip that will have to be watched multiple times to track all of the British cultural icons that appeared.

Yes, that was Mole and Ratty from The Wind and the Willows in the boat by the bridge as we blasted by there.

London’s Olympic Stadium, jammed full with more than 60,000 spectators and thousands more performers, had been transformed for the ceremony into a medieval meadow, then as if by magic (in a land of magical mythic figures) to a grinding, depressing Industrial Revolution foundry that would have made Thomas Hardy proud.

What rose out of the grimness, however, were the Olympic rings, forged on the backs of the British workers below. Some might argue the symbolism of that, but surely it was unintentional.

Britain’s contributions to children’s literature and film were honoured through hundreds of young people on the field, depicting London’s famous Children’s Hospital, along with characters including Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series, Cruella Deville from the book 101 Dalmatians and Mary Poppins.

Simon Rattle conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Chariots of Fire, with a surprise appearance by Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson. The section was in tribute to Britain's film industry.

A musical run through the British Invasion included everything from the Rolling Stones and The Beatles to Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Eurythmics and Prodigy, to Muse.

The flame, in another film, made its way down the Thames, courtesy of a speed boat driven by former England international footballer David Beckham.

The Queen was nothing if not game when it came to director Boyle's requests, appearing in a wonderful film, corgis included, that had James Bond (Daniel Craig) meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace and then escort her to a helicopter that flew across London to the stadium.

Sir Winston Churchill's statue actually looked up, through CGI magic, and waved as she went by. The Queen then "parachuted" under a Union Jack flag-decked canopy into the affair before appearing, with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, plus IOC president Jacques Rogge in the Royal Box.

That will be a YouTube sensation for years.

At the heart of the matter was the lighting of the Olympic flame and speculation had gone on for months about who would perform the deed.

What occurred began at Thames-side, where Steve Redgrave, a five-time gold medal winning rower, took the flame from a speedboat (supposedly the same one) and ran it into the stadium. There, he was met by a group of seven youngsters, who were to represent the future of British athletes.

They ran it around to the Olympic flag bearers, a group that included Muhammad Ali (still The Greatest, but looking rather frail) and former gold medal winning decathlete Daley Thompson. Each youngster was handed and lit their own flame.

From there they went to the centre of the stadium and lit seven of a hundred "petals" that would rise to create a flower of flame.

That will be moved before the start of the track and field events next week.

Having young people light the Olympic flame instead of a former athlete must have brought back some memories to Canadians of a certain age.

The last time it was done was at Montreal, in 1976, when Stéphane Préfontaine and Sandra Henderson, chosen to reflect Canada's two solitudes, lit the cauldron at the Olympic Stadium.

Sebastian Coe, head of the Olympic organizing committee in London, spoke of his pride and how "one day, we will tell our children and our grandchildren, when it came to our turn, we got it right."

That remains to be seen as the Games unfold over the next two weeks, but there was no doubt the fans in the stands went home happy and the television audience saw what the organizers were hoping to present.

Rogge, for his part, spoke of Britain's long sporting history, of how the island nation helped create the "concepts of sportsmanship and fair play" and how the values of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, will come to life in the next two weeks.