The Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Olympics is hours away. But the 22nd Winter Games are facing immense scrutiny on the eve of their launch. Hotels remain incomplete, stranding journalists on the city's subtropical streets. Thousands of stray dogs loiter amid new construction. (Hundreds have already been killed as animal rights workers race to save the remaining strays). But for those with canine-free room and board, there's another worry: their cell phones, laptops and tablets are being targeted by Russia's skilled computer hackers. While local and international officials race to fix these issues, a ravenous western television audience awaits the broadcast with must-see TV levels of enthusiasm. So in anticipation of tomorrow night's spectacle, we've traced the scope, scale and expense of each successive celebration from 1924 to 2010, save three shows for which video footage was unavailable. —Blaine McEvoy
Beginning in 1924 (and until 1992, when the scheduling pattern changed), the Winter Games were held in the cold weather months preceeding the Summer contests. Watch at left as 247 men and 11 women competing in six sports parade the Stade Olympique de Chamonix, a 45,000-seat equestrian venue. While the '24 Games were successful, they were also fairly predictable: Norway took home 17 of a possible 49 medals (and 11 of the 12 skiing awards). France nabbed just three medals, the first time in the history of the modern games (after 1896) that the host nation failed to win gold. Faring only slightly better, the United States nabbed four medals, good enough for fifth out of 16 competing nations (six of which earned no medals). Also of note: Chamonix was the second of five games held in France through the years, the others being the 1900 and 1924 Summer Games (both in Paris), the 1968 Winter Games (held in Grenoble, two hours southwest of Chamonix) and the Winter Games again in 1992 (hosted by Albertville, located in-between the two cities).
Unlike the French eight years earlier, American athletes found great success at the first Winter Games held on their home turf. Our countrymen won the medal tally with a total of 12, half of them gold. In all, 17 nations competed in northern New York, down from 25 at the '28 games in St. Moritz, Switzerland (Argentina, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia failed to send athletes but returned for the German games four years later). Watch at left as the parade circumnavigates the 7,500-seat Lake Placid Speedskating Oval (later renamed the James B. Sheffield Olympic Skating Rink). But the real treat of this clip comes at the 0:26 mark, when then-New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt officiates the opening. ". . . the representatives of many of our sister nations," he relays in his high-pitched accent, cut short by some elementary editing, "to this the opening of the third Winter Olympic games." Just 10 months later, the Empire State's executive would defeat his Republican rival, President Herbert Hoover, for what would become an unprecented run of 12 years as Commander in Chief.
At the Olympic Committee's gathering in 1931, the German capital of Berlin was chosen to host the 1936 Summer Games. And in a crafty parliamentary move similar to those seen in statehouses across America today, the Germans announced that they would exercise their right to organise the Winter Games too, which the IOC's bylaws allowed at that time (they later named the southern resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen as the site). As the athletes begin their parade at 0:26, watch as multiple nations raise their arms in Nazi salute to Chancelor Adolf Hitler, then just three years into his twelve-year reign of terror. Of note: the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games included the first symbolic lighting of the Olympic fire at the Winter Games (take a peek at towering Olympic cauldron at 1:07). The outbreak of hostilities – first in Japan and China and then in Europe – that ultimately led to the Second World War made it impossible for the Winter Games to be held in '40 or '44. As a result, cold-weather contests would not be seen again until the 1948 Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Eight days before the start of the Games, King George VI of Great Britain passed away. As a result, all national flags were flown at half-mast, and the British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand squads wore black arm bands in memoriam (catch them in procession at 1:08). But in the shadow of the Cold War, the Norwegians held generally smooth contests. Still, there were troubling times ahead. As Allen Gutman writes in his dense The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games, "Almost unnoticed at the time was an ominous report: ampoules and syringes were discovered in the Olympic village, strong evidence that some athletes were resorting to drugs. It was, however, nine years before the IOC established a drug commission. . . and another 14 years before the most troublesome drug of all – anabolic steroids – was banned."
Thirty-two countries – two more than the '52 Games, and the largest number of participating nations to that point – competed in four sports and twenty-four events in this northern Italian town located in the southern Alps. The Cortina Games were the first Winter Olympics to be broadcast on television, and when the primary cameraman captures another operator at work near the 3:33 mark, you get a real sense of that history in the making. In another first, Italian alpine skier Giuliana Minuzzo became the first woman to administer the Olympic Oath, which promises that athletes will "respect and abide by the rules. . . [and] commit [them]selves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of [their] teams."
Foreshadowing the rough roads ahead for Sochi and Brazil's 2014 World Cup bid, the state of California, following five years of preparation, eventually contributed nearly nine times its original financial commitment to the 1960 Winter Games. But the opening ceremony, if only metaphorically, paid off, with "pageantry chairman" Walt Disney dazzling spectators with fireworks, ice sculptures and thousands of entertainers in the first-ever ceremonial seen live on American television. Favorite son Richard Nixon, like FDR 28 years earlier, represented the government and declared the Games open. But unlike the Squire of Hyde Park, the Vice President lost the ensuing contest for America's higest office to then Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy.
The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the finest orchestras in the world. And their leader in 1964, Salzburg native Karl Böhm, opened the Innsbruck Games with stunning renditions of Beethoven's 7th and Mozart's 40th Symphony (both composers called Austria home, though Beethoven was born in Germany). Like Sochi – whose critics were quick to call out the absurdity of hosting the Winter Games at a subtropical beach resort – Innsbruck had its own complications that year, with an unseasonable lack of snowfall. And without artificial flakes, which weren't used on a large scale until the 1970s, the industrious Austrian army had to carry 20,000 ice bricks and 40,000 cubic meters of snow from the mountaintops to form the bobsled, luge and skiing courses.
Amateurism requirements were gradually phased out of the Olympic Charter beginning with the '72 games (it wasn't until 1988, however, that all professional athletes were eligible for the Olympics). But beyond the promise of the world's finest competitors, it makes sense that a record crowd turned out for Asia's first Winter Games. Perhaps they wanted to see the spoils of their island nation's $500 million investment in facilities upgrades. Or maybe it was the promise of a first-hand glance at Emeror Hirohito, who officiated the Opening Ceremony. Either way, the Japanese delegation noticed: Prior to Sapporo, they'd never won a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. But the host country shone, sweeping the ski jump and winning the affection of their countrymen. The IOC left happy, too, having sold the Games' television rights for a record $8.47 million.
For the second time inside 12 years, this hamlet in western Austria played host to the Winter Games. '76 marked the first official appearance of a cold-weather mascot (Schneeman, German for "snowman"; the stylized skier from Grenoble in '68 wasn't sanctioned). Watch the ceremony unfold as synchronized skydivers parachute from a helicopter hovering above the Bergisel, Innsbruck's signature ski jump. At 4:42, in a rather modest show of elation, hundreds of helium-filled baloons ascend over the overcast Tyrolean skies to signal the start of the Games. (Here's hoping there were no low-flying planes.) And in homage to Walt Disney's display in '60, a flock of doves was released (see them circumnavigate the stadium at 6:04). Clusters of traditional dancers dressed in dirndls, a preview of the outlandish ceremonies to come, conclude the ceremonial showcase.
48 years after FDR welcomed "representatives of many of our sister nations to this the opening of the third Winter Olympic Games," Vice President Walter Mondale, a fellow Democrat, kicked off the 1980 contest. To guarantee that all events took place in the best possible conditions – but really to avoid an Innsbruck in '64-style panic – artificial snow was introduced for the first time in Olympic history. Overheard throughout the telecast at left is an electronic reworking of the contest's theme song, "Give It All You Got," which trumpeter (and Rochester native) Chuck Mangione later performed live at the Closing Ceremonies. But for this clip's real treat, flash forward to 4:53. Say what you will about the controversial Ralph Lauren-designed Team U.S.A. outfits for 2014, but in our minds, nothing will ever surpass those boots, Stetsons and fur-lined cruiser jackets. Yee-haw!
Call it our deep-lying love of patriotism. Or perhaps it's our never-ending devotion to capitalism. But any hyper-choreographed event that raises a flag upside down (see 5:05) is one to be forgotten. Five months later, at the Los Angeles Summer Games, the Opening Ceremony would forever be changed by 84 grand pianos sounding the music of George Gershwin and wagons ferrying pioneers from California to New England. As Guttman again observes in The Olympics, sociologists including Alan Tomlinson were not impressed with "the world according to Disney," condeming the "heights, depths and breadths of shallowness, oversimplification [and] superficiality." Like it or not, the Hollywoodification of the Games had arrived.
By 1988, the power of television was undeniable, and the Games were extended from 12 days to 16 in order to cover three weekends instead of two. In their winning bid for the telecast, ABC forked over $309 million, then an unprecedented figure. As such, the Opening Ceremony – at the intersection of culture, sports and Awards Show-extravaganzas – was moved from Wednesday to Saturday night on the East Coast (the remaining daylight in the video a result of Calgary's Western displacement in the Mountain Time Zone). Watch as ranchers in flourescent dusters spin hot-pink prariewomen like tops and synchronized dancing snowflakes turn your monitor into a real-life Winamp visualization.
Skydivers flying the five-ringed symbol of the Games? Please, what is this – 1976? But seriously, what's the deal with these costumes? Check out 2:20 as a band of Teletubbies wrapped in garbage bags invade the circus-like Théâtre des Cérémonies. But it gets even better (or worse?) at 4:41 when rollerblading mountaineers somehow keep the attention of 35,000 paying customers. Leave it to the French for too much artistry and not enough shebang.
The creative direction for the '94 Opening Cermony was meant to present a range of Norwegian culture. While noble in theory, what translated to TV was a hybrid mix of Fantasia meets the X Games. Watch as Stein Gruben dominates the towering Lysgårdsbakken, the host's city's famed ski jumping hill. But few remember that Gruben came off the bench for that run. Ole Gunnar Fidjestol, a Bronze Medalist for Norway at in '88, was the first-choice until he took a spill in practice, lost consciousness and sprained his neck. In a pinch, the spot went to Gruben, his understudy. "I am sorry for Ole," Gruben told the New York Times in '94. "But I can't think about what happened to him. I have a job to do." And did it he did.
In a scene that would make A Clockwork Orange's dystopian antihero Alex shed tears of happiness, Seiji Ozawa – principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera – takes a classy cue from the '64 Innsbruck Games and directs a live performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony while ballet dancers sway in choreographed unison onstage. Then at 1:25 comes the first shocker, as Nagano Olympic Stadium's capacity crowd of 30,000 begin singing the verse in unison with Ozawa's choir. Later, at 1:57, cameras pipe in live feeds from Sydney, Berlin, New York, Beijing, South Africa and literally every other corner of the world where – you guessed it – six more groups join in on the action. Staggering in its scope and flawless in its execution, this is one clip to watch through its conclusion.
The September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan changed America forever. "On that Tuesday, the best of who we are was turned against us," Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann S. Wenner wrote in the October 25, 2001 issue of the magazine. "There is cause for young and old to be worried about the future." It came as little surprise, then, that the Salt Lake Games – opened less than five months later by President George W. Bush – touched our most patriotic sensibilities. An American Flag, rescued from Ground Zero, was carefully carried into Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium by an honor guard of American athletes, firefighters and police officers. We say carefully because the surface was actually an abstract shaped ice rink covering a large portion of the floor. Also of note is an interjection from veteran Olympic commentator Bob Costas of NBC at 7:39, who relays that our beloved "U.S.A.!" chant is actually an invention of the Olympics, having been born on the shores of Lake Placid 12 years earlier by fans cheering on the "Miracle on Ice" gold medal men's hockey contest between the States and the Soviets.
Prepare yourself for sensory overload. Start at 0:54, where a disco-tweaked version of Rocky's "Gonna Fly Now" provides a soundtrack for thousands of synchronized dancers whose choreography rivals even the finest collegiate marching bands. Later, at 1:28, things hit full Cirque du Soleil mode (the Louis XVI-style visuals at 1:54 should inspire at the very least a slight to moderate acid flashback). But the best is saved for Yoko Ono's tribute to her husband and partner John Lennon's mission of non-violence at 3:00. "Imagine all the people," she says, "living life in peace." And for one night in northwestern Italy, we all did.
Beloved Canadian novelist W. O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind has sold almost a million copies in his homeland. So to honor their rich arts heritage, New Brunswick native Donald Sutherland was invited by his nation's delegation to read this excerpt during Vancouver's Opening Ceremony. "I would walk to the end of the street and over the prairie with the clickety grasshoppers bunging in arcs ahead of me," says Sutherland with his warm, calm voice. "Standing there with the total thrust of prairie sun on my vulnerable head, I guess I learned – at a very young age – that I was mortal." It's a fitting start to a traquil, serene show free of the opulence seen in Turin four years prior.