2004 Summer Olympics opening ceremony

The opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games was held on August 13, 2004 at the Olympic Stadium in Maroussi, Greece, a suburb of Athens. 72,000 spectators attended the event, with approximately 15,000 athletes from 202 countries participating in the ceremony as well. It marked the first-ever international broadcast of high definition television, undertaken by the U.S. broadcaster NBC and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Opening sequence

The opening ceremony began with a twenty-eight second countdownone second per Olympics held since Athens last hosted the first modern gamespaced by the sounds of an amplified heartbeat played by two drummers, one inside the stadium, and one projected on the stadium screen from the ancient stadium of Olympia, the locale of the Olympic games of antiquity. A blazing projectile, seemingly coming from the ancient stadium of Olympia on the screen, lands on the flooded stadium. According to Dimitris Papaioannou, the event "was a pageant of traditional Greek culture and history harkening back to its mythological beginnings, and viewed through the progression of Greek art." The dramatic music that accompanied the performances often combined drumming with the traditionally Greek sound of bouzouki.

Artistic programme

The programme began with a drummer ensemble marching in the Athens Olympic Stadium playing their Typical Greek drummers : one of them in the Ancient Olympia Stadium playing his drum was shown in the screen of the stadium and one in the Athens Olympic Stadium to show a connection between the ancient past and the present. From the screen where from the images of the Olympia drummer are being shown, a lighter rocket simulating a comet crashes into the giant pool of the stadium drawing with its fire the Olympic Rings. This first act of the Opening Ceremony was called "Calling to the Ancient Olympic Spirits" by the organizers: the comet symbolizes the fire of the ancients giving life to the modern Olympic movement, thus bridging the past and the present together. Next, a young Greek boy sailed into the stadium on a giant paper boat waving the host nation's flag, symbolizing Greece's maritime tradition and its close connection to the sea.

The segments that followed were divided in two main parts. The first part of the main artistic segment of the opening ceremony was called "Allegory". "Allegory" introduced the main conceptual themes and ideals that are going to be omnipresent throughout the entire opening ceremony, such as the confluence of the past and present, love and passion as the progenitors of history, and humanity's attempt to understand itself. The second part, called the "Clepsydra", or "Hourglass", celebrates the themes introduced in the "Allegory" section through a portrayal of Greek history from the ancient to the modern times.

The "Allegory" segment began with a recitation of a verse from Nobel Prize-winning Greek poet George Seferis' poem "Mythistorema 3". As the verse is being recited on the speakers, the spotlights are focused upon a woman clad in a black gown looking out to the water. Holding a marble sculpture head, the woman seems to be entering into a dream. As she looks into the dark water, a centaur appears whose human and animal parts supposedly symbolize the duality of spirit and body. The centaur then walks about and then throws a spear of light into the center of the stadium, from which a giant statue that exemplified Cycladic art (and thus one of the first depictions of the human form in Greek art) emerged. This Cycladic head also represents one of the very first attempts of humanity to understand itself. With the use of lasers, geometrical shapes and other scientific images (such as a stylistic representation of the solar system) were displayed on the figure's face. The statue then broke into pieces that floated away, and from within it emerged a smaller kouros statue from the Archaic Period of Greek sculpture, which in turn broke apart to reveal the depiction of man in a sculpture of the classical period, symbolizing the dawn of individuality and extolling human scale, one of the principal themes of the 2004 Olympics. At the end of this sequence, a cube arises from the water, and a man starts slowly balancing himself on the rotating cube while representations of human kind's greatest achievements, contrasted to humanistic representations and images of men, women, and children of various ethnicities and ages, are projected onto the pieces of broken sculpture, which seem to be floating above the water. This last sequence is meant to symbolize the birth of logical thought, higher learning, and humanity finally making sense of the world in which it lives. After this sequence, the pieces of sculpture descend to the water, meant to symbolize the Greek isles.

In the next sequence, Eros, the Greek god of love, was introduced flying over a pair of lovers frolicking in the pool of water located in the center of the stadium. The young couple along with Eros symbolize the fact that the humanity which create and shape history is born out of love and passion. This segment introduces the next part of the ceremony, the "Clepsydra", which highlights the themes of the opening ceremony through a celebration of Greek history. The lovers then lie down in the water, and both fall into a dream state. Throughout the rest of the scenes from history and mythology, Eros flew over the parade, occasionally touching or stepping on the floats moving beneath him, thus reinforcing the theme of love and passion as the source for all history.

The pageantry following the statues and the introduction of Eros continued to portray scenes that showed the sequence of Greek civilisation through its art. The scenes started with the Minoan civilisation. The first float featured the iconic image of Minoan civilization: that of the fertility goddess clad in a bodice exposing her breasts and clutching serpents in both hands. The subsequent floats then featured scenes of bull-jumping, dolphins, and other elements that harkened back to the images in the frescoes of Phaestos. The scenes then proceeded to the more stark art of the Mycenean civilisation, followed by representations of the Classical period. A chariot carrying an actor portraying Alexander the Great introduced images from the Hellenistic period, which in turn were followed by representations of Byzantine art, the Greek War of Independence, and lastly of 20th century elements of Greek culture, such as the popular shadow-theatre figure Karagiozis, who is said to be a humorous and self-deprecating depiction (and parody) of Greek mentality.

At the end of the parade, "Eros" lowered enough to help a pregnant woman remove her outer garment. This last part represents the ceremony coming into full circle: the "Clepsydra" segment began with the image of the Minoan fertility goddess and is now ending with a pregnant woman representing the future of all humanity and history. With belly glowing, the woman moved into the lake of water as the stadium's lights dimmed and lights underneath the pool of water were turned on, thus creating an image of stars in a galaxy. According to Greek myth, the stars of the galaxy were born out of the milk of Hera's fertile breasts. In fact, the name for the Milky Way Galaxy, the home to planet Earth, was born out of this myth. Slowly the stars rose around the woman, and moved to form a rapidly rotating DNA double helix, which is the basis for all life on the planet. Humanity's attempt to understand itself, a theme that has been omnipresent throughout the entire ceremony beginning with the Cycladic head, is further reinforced by the representation of the DNA double helix, which symbolizes humanity's latest and most recent attempt to understand itself: the late 20th and early 21st centuries witnessed great advances in the field of genetics with the mapping of the human genome.

Finally, all the characters of the parade began to walk inside the pool, around its center, mixing the past and the present in a single marching beat of the drums. The confluence of the past and the present is another main theme of the opening ceremony. The music began a crescendo with choruses, when all of a sudden an olive tree was lifted from the center of the pool - symbolizing goddess Athena's preferred gift by the Greeks - land and food - over Poseidon's gift, the horse - a tool of warfare. At the music's climax, all the characters stopped and raised their arms as if worshipping the Tree, which was high above, surrounded also by the fragments of the deconstructed statues who resembled a mount.

Parade of nations

In order to prepare for the entry of the athletes to the stadium, the giant pool of water that had been constructed on the floor of the stadium had to first be drained. 2,162,000 liters of water were drained from the stadium in a time period of 3 minutes, providing a dry, hard surface for the athletes to march and gather on.[1]

Typically, Greece leads the Parade of Nations in any Olympics, with the host nation entering the stadium last. However, since Greece was the host nation, they went last, sending only their flag with the weightlifter Pyrros Dimas as the flag bearer into the stadium at the beginning of the parade, and the athletes themselves at the end of it.

The debut position was given to Saint Lucia (Αγία Λουκία in Greek), who led the Parade of Nations into the stadium. As the nations entered in Greek alphabetical order, Zimbabwe—which has usually been the penultimate nation, followed only by the host country—appeared in the middle of the parade.[2]

The entrances of Afghanistan and Iraq were emotional highpoints of the parade.[3] The nation of Kiribati made its debut Olympic appearance at the 2004 Summer Olympics, and East Timor marched under its own flag for the first time. Serbia and Montenegro appeared at the Olympics under the nation's new name for the first and only time since the country was officially renamed in 2003, and prior to the union's dissolution in 2006; it had previously been known as Yugoslavia.

Due to the unpopularity of the American-led invasion of Iraq among Greeks, it had been expected by the media that audience members would protest against the war during the entrance of the American delegation into the stadium by booing;[4] however, the Americans did receive a warm welcome, much to the pleasant surprise of US news anchors covering the event.[3]

Apart from Greece, the Greek crowd reserved some of their loudest cheers for their fellow Greeks from Cyprus, Australia, home to many Greeks and site of the previous Summer Olympics and Mediterranean countries such as France and Italy, as well as for Brazil and Canada. A loud cheer was also given for Djibouti, because it had only one person enter the stadium. The teams from Palestine and Serbia and Montenegro were also very warmly welcomed. Cheers greeted Portugal, the nation that hosted the UEFA Euro 2004, which Greece won beating Portugal in the final match by 1–0.

High-ranking politicians and royalty from all around the world applauded as the teams from their respective countries paraded by. Along with their spouses, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway (who lit the Cauldron for the 1994 Winter Olympics), and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, (among others) each stood and applauded the teams from their countries. Past world leaders, including U.S. President George H. W. Bush, also attended and applauded their national teams during the parade, in which DJ Tiësto played trance music.

Speeches to athletes and spectators

After the Parade of Nations had concluded and the athletes were gathered in the center of the stadium, two short speeches were delivered in front of a model of an olive tree, a traditional Greek and Olympic symbol. Before the speeches were given, there was a segment honoring all previous Olympiads. A runner George Sabanis (who later started a career as a pop star in Greece), carrying a flag with an image of an olive branch symbolizing not only peace, but Athens itself, lapped around the stadium, symbolically crossing tape dedicated to the previous 27 Olympiads. The runner even symbolically stumbled and stopped for the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Games which were canceled due to world wars. The runner ended his run at the very center of the stadium, where Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and Rogge were under the olive tree, symbolizing the Olympic's current journey, from Athens to Athens. Similar tributes have happened during the Opening Ceremonies, for example in the last Olympics before that, in Salt Lake City, where banners of the previous 18 Winter Olympics entered Rice-Eccles Stadium at the beginning of the ceremony. This would also be seen in Vancouver during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics and on the Televised version of the Olympic Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The first speech came from Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the chief organizer of the Athens 2004 Olympics and the first female chief organizer of an Olympic games. She told the athletes: "Welcome home!" and "Greece is standing before you. We are ready." She also stated the people of Greece "have waited long for this moment," alluding to the long time period between the first modern Olympic Games in Greece and the 2004 Games, as well as the fact that Athens was passed over in 1990 in favor of Atlanta, Georgia for host of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki was followed by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who delivered a speech encouraging participating athletes to resist the urge to use banned performance-enhancing substances and "show us that sport unites by overriding national, political, religious, and language barriers". Rogge then introduced Greek president Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, who declared the games officially open.

Music during the opening ceremony

During the "Allegory" segment highlighting the conceptual and themes and ideals of the opening ceremony, the chosen music was Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in D Minor: 6. Langsam. The music played during the "Clepsydra" segment highlighting Greek history and mythology was composed by Konstantinos Bita. The songs played were instrumental in nature and many used traditional Greek instruments. Famous Greek artists such as Stavros Xarhakos (whose song "Zeimbekiko" was played), Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis and Konstantinos Bita, were included in the Olympic soundtrack. The whole music project was arranged by composer George Koumendakis, who had worked in the past several times with Papaioannou and was assisted in this project by Maria Metaxaki. The music production team included Marcus Dillistone, Paul Stefanidis, Dick Lewsey and Julian Scott.

New Zealand composer John Psathas (son of Greek immigrant parents) was chosen to compose and arrange music to accompany parts of the opening ceremonies. The most prestigious engagement of his career to date, he joins the ranks of well-known composers, such as John Williams, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Leonard Bernstein and Mikis Theodorakis who have also written music for the Olympics.

Mr Psathas was engaged in 2003 to compose and arrange music for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies. He has since commuted several times between Wellington and Athens to work on the music and supervise the rehearsal process.

His music includes a number of specially composed fanfares and processionals to accompany the arrival of the IOC President, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron and to precede the Olympic oaths, and he is responsible for the soundtrack to the entire ‘flame sequence’ of the ceremony. John Psathas has also arranged the National Anthem of Greece, the Olympic Hymn, and music by Shostakovich, Debussy and the foremost living Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis to accompany other parts of the ceremony. The fireworks at the Games’ closing ceremony on 29 August will also feature music by the composer.

During the Parade of Nations, Dutchman DJ Tiësto provided the music, becoming the first DJ ever to spin live at the Olympics. During the course of his performance the Dutch athletes started dancing in front of the DJ booth and had to be moved on by officials. Tiësto later released a condensed version of the performance on CD titled Parade of the Athletes. In the liner notes, he noted the IOC requested to him that the music not contain any lyrics as they could be inadvertently misinterpreted.

Björk performed "Oceania", later included on her album Medúlla, immediately after the Parade of Nations ended. While the song was being played, a large piece of fabric (which belonged to Björk's dress) was pulled over the heads of the athletes, who had gathered on the ground in the center of the stadium following their march around the stadium. At the conclusion of Björk's performance, a map of the world was projected on the fabric.

The entrance of the torch on the stadium was surrounded by the "Le Roi Lear Fanfarre", by Claude Debussy; and the cauldron was lighted by the final part of "Pirogov Suite", an epic suite by Dmitri Shostakovich. Both songs were adapted by John Psathas.

Torch relay and the lighting of the cauldron

The olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony. The concept was the work of choreographer and director Dimitris Papaioannou, a modern dance artist.

The Opening Ceremony culminated in the end of the torch relay, a tradition begun when Berlin hosted the games in 1936. Before the torch came into the stadium, a three rings arose from the center of the stadium that simulated a globe. This segment preceding the torch's arrival honored the first global torch relay that was begun by Athens 2004. Actors, suspended on cables, started rising out of the crowd and ran towards the globe, carrying glowing sticks meant to simulate the Olympic torch. On the globe, the names of the cities which the torch visited were projected, and this segment ended with all the torchbearers floating mid-air coming together at the globe. After this segment ended, the lights were dimmed, and the sound of the heartbeat accompanied by thunderous cheers and applause met the torch's final arrival to the Olympic Stadium.

Torch bearer Nikos Galis, considered to be the greatest Greek basketball player of all time, entered the stadium first. The torch was passed on, in sequential order, to Greek football legend Mimis Domazos, 1992 Hurdles champion Voula Patoulidou, 1996 Olympic weightlifting champion Kakhi Kakhiashvili, and 1996 Olympic gymnastics champion Ioannis Melissanidis.

The torch was finally passed to the 1996 Olympic sailing champion Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, who lit a giant cigar-shaped tapered column resembling a torchnot, as usual, a cauldronto burn during the duration of the 2004 Summer Olympics. As Kaklamanakis ascended the steps to light the cauldron, the cauldron seemed to bow down to him, symbolizing that despite advance of technology, technology is still a creation and tool of humanity and that it was meant to serve humanity's needs. The ceremony concluded with a breathtaking fireworks display.

International reaction to the ceremony

The ceremony was a source of major acclaim amongst international press[5] and featured never before seen technologies used in a stadium, including a giant pool with slip-proof iridescent fibreglass flooring that drained its water in 2 minutes,[6] beautiful and innovative lighting, and an ingenious staging system utilising a complex network of automated cables that lifted, manoeuvered, and choreographed the floating pieces of sculpture to follow the music and narrative of the opening ceremony. The costumes, which also drew great international praise, were designed by well-known London-based Greek fashion designer Sophia Kokosalaki.[7] Eleftheria Deco was awarded for her lighting design of the opening ceremony with an Emmy award. NBC, the international television broadcaster of the 2004 Athens Olympics, has also been awarded with 6 Emmy awards for its coverage of the Games and technical production.


  1. time.com
  2. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2006-02-19. Retrieved 2004-08-19.
  3. 1 2 Associated Press (August 13, 2004). "Athens' bumpy road to the Olympics leads to lavish open". USA Today.
  4. Overington, Caroline (May 15, 2004). "American team prepares for fear, loathing in Athens". Sydney Morning Herald.
  5. Associated Press (August 29, 2004). "Master of Olympic Pageantry Prepares One Final Blowout". New York Times.
  6. fibreglassgrating.co.uk
  7. style.com

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