LONDON – The Queen made her acting debut (in a James Bond scene, no less), Mary Poppins outdueled Lord Voldemort’s evil magic, the flame was lit in truly unique fashion – by seven unknowns, no less – and the 2012 Olympic Games were open.
Even the rain stayed away except for the briefest of showers as London, the first city to host an Olympics on three occasions, set off 17 days of sporting celebration Friday on what can only be described as a resounding victory.
It wasn't Beijing and it didn't try to be. Four yours ago we saw one of history's biggest displays of national pride, but London beat its own chest in a more pleasantly understated way.
There was a peculiar sweetness about being a British person in this place and on this night. The United Kingdom can no longer fool itself that it is not one of the world's most important nations but could take comfort in still being able to welcome the world to its doorstep and put on one heck of a show in the process.
Producer Danny Boyle, he of "Slumdog Millionaire" directorial fame, pieced together a lavish, epic and masterful show that blended humor with history, music with majesty, and was met with almost universal approval. Boyle wanted to portray a graceful boast, showing off the best of Britain with pride but without a trace of stuffiness or arrogance.
The iconic moment when the cauldron burst into flame may not have been to everyone’s taste – it was lit by the hands of a group of young athletes nominated by sporting legends rather than a member of athletic royalty – but if that was the serious stuff, earlier there had been no shortage of fun. That said, of everything that happened in Stratford on this evening, the sight of Bond actor Daniel Craig and his sketch and then fake parachute jump from a helicopter with the Queen took some beating.
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But there were touching moments. A montage honored the deceased who could not be at the Olympic Stadium on its big opening night but, lamentably, it did not recognize the victims of Munich in 1972.
Nevertheless, Britain got its pride back here – and how. A perishing economy has hurt the lives and pockets of millions in the U.K., but you wouldn't have thought so at this party and, once again, it was OK to be proud to be British.
"We have hosted the Games three times and each time the world has faced turbulence and trouble," London Olympics chief Lord Sebastian Coe said. "Each time we have come through."
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It was one of those moments when a lump in your throat sets in and you don’t quite know why. There was just something in the air, some kind of magic, something very real and perfect and tasteful.
The athletes also felt it. Brazil set a lovely tone by displaying flags that carried its own emblem on one side and the United Kingdom's on the other. The Czech Republic wielded umbrellas just as the skies cleared, once and for all. Usain Bolt pointed his index finger and repeated "number one" as he carried the Jamaican flag, a reminder, if one was needed, that the Olympics are about excellence as well as sentiment. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant was content to soak up the atmosphere in the middle of the huge pack of American athletes as they formed one of the last teams around the track.
Once the teams had filed into place, the usual course of speeches followed and the lighting of the cauldron was completed, one last blast from Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney set the event into motion and it was time for competition to begin.
But the first, and perhaps biggest success of all, goes to a host nation that has gotten off to a perfect start. If the Games are to continue as they began, then the world is in for a wondrous treat.
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