It’s been 30 years since South Korea last hosted the Olympic Games. That’s given the host nation of the 2018 Winter Olympics plenty of time to dream up more than a few indelible moments for the Opening Ceremony in PyeongChang.
Will anything from this year’s introductory spectacle measure up to the most unforgettable theatrics from the 122-year history of the modern Olympic Games? Here’s a list of 10 showstoppers to keep in mind while watching the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which you can watch live right here on Feb. 9 at 6 a.m. ET.
10. Former Soviet Union turns humans into Legos (Moscow, 1980)
This moment lands at the bottom of this list not because it wasn’t awesome to see the Soviets stack gymnasts and dancers into the Olympic rings and other flowery structures, but rather because few (if any) back in the United States actually saw this spectacle. America boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, amid the heat of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
9. Bjork maps the globe on a giant dress (Athens, 2004)
Bjork was one of the headliners from the opening ceremonies at the 2004 Summer Games, despite hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland — a tidy 3,300-plus miles from Athens. That distance would’ve been no more than a stone’s throw on the map of the world projected onto the pop singer’s dress as she performed “Oceania,” a song she wrote specifically for the Olympics.
8. Sir Paul McCartney sings “Hey Jude” at a steep discount (London, 2012)
Typically, Sir Paul McCartney’s booking fee runs well into seven figures. For his native country, though, the former Beatles frontman made quite the exception.
McCartney closed out the Danny Boyle-directed Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London with a rendition of “Hey Jude.” The price? A single British pound — or about $1.42 today.
Not a bad hometown discount for the Queen.
7. Shirtless Tongan steals the show in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, 2016)
Rarely does the Parade of Nations leave a mark on the collective sporting conscience.
That is, unless Pita Taufatofua is involved. The then-32-year-old martial artist had social media buzzing as he carried Tonga’s flag while walking as any Brazilian beachgoer would: shirtless and lathered with oil.
He’ll be back representing his country of Brazil in PyeongChang — this time as a cross-country skier — though he won’t be leading the island nation’s delegation, let alone without clothing in frigid temperatures.
6. “Rocketman” sticks the jetpack landing (Los Angeles, 1984)
The Opening Ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles went out of its way to give the thousands of attendees at the Memorial Coliseum (and the millions of viewers at home) a glimpse into the future. And what could have been more futuristic, some 34 years ago, than watching a guy in a jumpsuit speeding into a stadium by way of a jetpack?
That guy — Bill Suitor — was a rocket belt test pilot at Bell Aerosystems. As spectacular as it was to see him soar into the Coliseum with two tanks of hydrogen peroxide strapped to his back, the greater feat might’ve been the minor miracle it took for him to land cleanly on two feet. In comments to CNN’s Dean Irvine, Suitor compared flying with a rocket belt to “trying to stand on a beach ball in a swimming pool.”
Which, frankly, would’ve made for a memorable moment too, were it possible to pull off.
5. Russian police “Get Lucky” (Sochi, 2014)
There’s a big difference between “dope” as a verb and “dope” as an adjective. Just ask Russia.
While the host nation’s athletes were preparing to systematically skirt rules and procedures regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the National Guard of Russia was busy entertaining the masses at the Opening Ceremony.
The Red Army Choir took everyone by surprise when it busted out a rendition of Daft Punk’s hit “Get Lucky.” In terms of pure entertainment value per Russian ruble, that performance might have been the most cost-effective part of the priciest games in Olympic history.
4. Mary Poppins brigade saves sick kids from Lord Voldemort (London 2012)
The Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Games was littered with references to England’s historic literary tradition. No segment of director Danny Boyle’s sprawling epic at Wembley Stadium was more closely intertwined with Great Britain’s penchant for storytelling than the tribute to the National Health Service.
To pay homage to England’s taxpayer-funded health care, Boyle had a fleet of Mary Poppinses (i.e. private nannies) float into the venue to rescue a slew of sick children from Lord Voldemort.
Granted, Harry Potter’s arch nemesis wasn’t the only villain to invade the kids’ dreams during the “Bedtime Stories” portion of the proceedings; Cruella De Vil from “101 Dalmatians,” Captain Hook from “Peter Pan” and Child Catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” also made cameos.
But only He Who Must Not Be Named was rendered 100 feet tall — and, thus, required close to 30 spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine go down.
3. Drummers display spectacular synchronicity (Beijing, 2008)
The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing began with a bang — or, more accurately, a couple thousand of them. The field at the Bird’s Nest stadium in the host city was filled with drummers dressed in traditional Chinese robes and equipped with red glow-in-the-dark batons .
And how many drummers were there banging away in seemingly perfect unison? 2,008 … as in, the year those games took place.
2. “Queen Elizabeth” parachutes into Wembley (London, 2012)
Usually, James Bond is the one busy doing the Queen’s bidding as a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. For the Opening Ceremony in London, though, Queen Elizabeth took care of her own stunts … sort of.
The production to set off the 2012 Summer Olympics featured a more-than-six-minute segment with everything from James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) and Corgis to an animated Winston Churchill statue and (a stunt double of) the Queen Mother airdropping into her seat at Wembley Stadium.
1. Olympic ring freezes in Russia (Sochi, 2014)
Russia pulled out all the stops — including an elaborate doping scheme that got the country and many of its athletes banned from subsequent Olympics — to ensure a successful 2014 Winter Games in Sochi for the host nation. But not even the record $51 billion spent on the proceedings could ensure perfect execution at the Opening Ceremony.
The theatrics in Sochi included an unfurling of the five Olympic rings from elaborately engineered snowflakes. Trouble is, only four of them fully deployed, while the fifth remained crumbled in the corner like a faulty chromosome.
Afterward, Konstantin Ernst, who produced the proceedings, dismissed the error with a nod to Eastern philosophy.
“Zen Buddhists have an idea: If you have an ideally polished ball, you have to leave a scratch to get an idea of how ideally it was polished,” Ernst explained. “No one normal person can be disturbed from the two-hour story by one unopened snowflake. It is a paranoid reaction.”
Not that he had to worry about any blowback on social media from a local audience. With the Opening Ceremony on tape delay inside the host nation, Russian state TV was able to replace the live blunder with flawless rehearsal footage.
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