5 Memorable Moments from Past Opening Ceremonies

As the Olympic Games get set to kick off in London with the opening ceremony on Friday, we know that the next couple of weeks will feature some fantastic athletic stories to inspire us, amaze us, and occasionally make us laugh. However, don't discount the opening ceremony itself as a chance for some memorable Olympic moments. Past ceremonies have been known to include their own little quirks, disasters, and political flaps. Here are a few of the best.

1. The Olympic Torch Becomes a Korean BBQ

The 1988 Seoul Olympics opening ceremonies started out smoothly, with South Korea's President Roh Tae Woo officially opening the Games, the raising of the Olympic flag, and the playing of the Olympic hymn. The customary release of doves went off without a hitch, and the crowd's excitement grew as former Korean Olympians ran into the stadium to finish the torch relay.

Things got less picturesque, though, when the final members of the relay team ascended the hundred-foot torch cauldron by riding an elevating platform. When they reached the top, it became clear that several of the doves had acted like doves when they'd been released: they flew around for a bit before finding a nice high place to perch. Instead of being frightened by the cauldron lighting team, the birds seemed to just eye them curiously. Bad move. When the relay torches hit the cauldron, it went up in flames, taking a fair number of doves with it. Organizers discontinued the dove release following this incident. You can see the cringe-inducing debacle take place below (jump to about the 2:45 mark).

2. Romance Smolders over the Olympic Cauldron

Unlucky birds aren't the only things that can get hot over the cauldron; the passions of two teenagers have heated up there as well. When Montreal hosted the 1976 Games, organizers wanted to find a symbolic way to represent both Quebec and the rest of Canada working together in harmony. What better way to celebrate multiculturalism than with the country's children? Stephane Prefontaine, a 16-year-old French-Candian track prodigy, and Toronto's Sandra Henderson, a 15-year-old runner, received the nod to light the cauldron. This ended up being more than a cute photo op, though. The two fell in love and ended up getting married years later.

The Montreal cauldron's adventures weren't all happy, though. Just days after the flame successfully acted as a matchmaker, a torrential rainstorm extinguished it. A quick-thinking bystander relit the torch with his cigarette lighter, which seemed like a reasonable way to avert disaster. By Olympic standards, though, this bit of pragmatism was tantamount to desecration. Organizers had to extinguish the cauldron before relighting it with a "real" sacred Olympic flame that they had been keeping in reserve for just such an occasion.

3. Paralympic Archer Gets One Shot at the Cauldron

While you probably remember the 1992 Barcelona Games for the American basketball Dream Team's dominance or South Africa's return to competition following a 28-year ban, the Olympics also featured one of the coolest cauldron-lightings. Rather than having someone simply walk up to the cauldron and light it with a relay torch, organizers decided to go for the dramatic. When the torch arrived in the middle of the stadium, paralympic archer Antonio Rebello used the flame to ignite an arrow, which he then fired over the crowd towards the cauldron perched on the outer rim of the stadium. The cauldron was gradually releasing fuel into the air, so when the flaming arrow passed over it, the whole thing ignited in one of the better spectacles in Olympic history. See for yourself (jump to about the 4:35 mark):

4. Hitler Leaves His Mark on the Games

Picture 133.pngThe 1936 Games in Berlin will forever be remembered as the "Hitler Olympics" in which Jesse Owens used his track triumphs to underscore the flimsiness of Nazi ideology. However, many of the traditions now associated with the Games didn't gain steam until Hitler's brain trust employed them to add some extra pageantry. The relay of the Olympic flame from Olympia to the site of the Games, for instance, was the idea of Carl Diem, one of Hitler's planners. According to Hitler's logic, the relay reinforced the kinship of his Aryan nation to its ancient Greek forerunners. The rings of the Olympic flag also didn't gain much traction until Diem prominently displayed them at the lighting of the torch at Delphi. After seeing the rings carved into stone, people fell under the misconception that the symbol traced its roots to the ancient Games, when in actuality Pierre de Coubertin only designed the rings two decades earlier.

For his part, Hitler was uncharacteristically taciturn at the ceremonies; the only words he uttered were, "I proclaim open the Olympic Games of Berlin, celebrating the XIth Olympiad of the modern era." Perhaps he didn't want to get upstaged by the spectacle, which included the doomed Hindenburg airship floating over the stadium with the Olympic rings in tow and a goose-stepping delegation of Bulgarian athletes.

5. Protests Plague the Soviet Games

Picture 93.pngIn America, the 1980 Games in Moscow were pretty noteworthy because the Western powers boycotted the festivities. The protest was due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it was a favor the Eastern Bloc countries would return when Los Angeles hosted the Games in 1984. However, other countries chose to show up and compete while still subtly protesting the Afghanistan conflict. Some countries competed without taking part in the Opening Parade, while 16 countries paraded under the Olympic flag instead of their respective countries'. (Their logic was that the Olympic flag was a symbol of peace.) When these delegations won medals later in the Games, organizers played the Olympic hymn rather than their respective national anthems.

If these protests were meant to make an impression on Moscow's youth, though, they probably fell short of their goal. All children between ages 7 and 15 spent the day "on holiday" in the countryside to keep them away from the potential Western influences of the throngs of spectators flooding in for the Games. Sadly, the children missed one of the strangest quirks in the history of any ceremony: two cosmonauts appeared on a giant video screen to greet the athletes from outer space.

This article originally appeared during the Beijing Games in 2008.

2018 Winter Olympics By the Numbers: Which Country Was the Big Winner in Pyeongchang?

The closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics was held on Sunday, February 25, concluding more than two weeks of history-making figure-skating jumps and listening to curlers yell at each other. But if you're someone who tunes in to the Olympics only to see your country win, you may have been left feeling confused. There was no official winner announced at the end of the event, so how are you supposed to know which nation dominated the Winter Games? Judging solely by medal count, these are the countries that skied, skated, and slid their way to the top in Pyeongchang.

According to Bloomberg, Norway came out of the games as the most decorated country. The Scandinavian nation of 5.3 million took home 11 bronze, 14 silver, and 14 gold medals, bringing the total to 39. That makes Norway the biggest single nation winner at any Winter Olympics, breaking the prior record of 37, which was set by the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Norway was represented by about half the number of athletes competing on Team USA, but it was bolstered by a few advantages—like long winters (making training for cross-country sports easier), universal healthcare, and a culture that encourages young athletes to play sports for the sake of play rather than for the sake of winning.

Germany tied Norway for the most golds with 14, but earned 10 silver and seven bronze medals, landing them in second place with 31. Canada ranked third with 29 medals overall, 11 of which were gold, and the United States came in fourth with a tally of 23 medals, including nine golds. The Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, France, and Austria round out the top 10.

Teams used to spending a lot of time on the podium may strive for that top slot, but placing in any event is impressive. The majority of teams that competed went home without any medals to show for their efforts. Fortunately, they have until 2022 to prepare for the next Winter Olympics in Beijing.

[h/t Bloomberg]

Lars Baron/Getty Images
The Most Decorated Winter Olympians in History
Lars Baron/Getty Images
Lars Baron/Getty Images

For most athletes, winning a medal at the Olympics would be the pinnacle of their career. But these athletes didn't stop at just one. They excelled under pressure and earned themselves a spot in the annals of their respective sports as the Most Decorated Winter Olympians.

1. Marit Bjørgen, 14 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Marit Bjørgen
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Bjørgen became the most decorated athlete at the 2010 Vancouver Games with five medals. She added three gold medals in 2014 to bring her lifetime total up to six golds, three silvers, and one bronze—making her the most successful female Olympian. With a gold, silver, and two bronze medals in PyeongChang, she became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time.

2. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 13 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Biathlon

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Bjoerndalen won two gold medals at Sochi in 2014—in men's sprint biathlon and in the first Olympic mixed relay biathlon—to give him the lead in career-medal count. His hardware collection now includes eight gold medals, four silver, and one bronze. The 44-year-old failed to qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

3. Bjorn Daehlie, 12 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Bjorn Daehlie
Bob Martin/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

When Bjoerndalen won his 13th career medal, he surpassed fellow countryman Daehlie, who had held the record for most Olympic medals since his dominance in the '90s. Over three Winter Games Daehlie won eight gold and four silver medals before sustaining a career-ending injury as a result of a roller-skiing accident in 1999.

4 (tie). Raisa Smetanina, 10 Medals

Country: Russia
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Osetrov Yuri/ITAR-TASS/Landov

Although Bjørgen and Belmondo (below) have since matched her, Smetanina was the first woman to win 10 Olympic medals. Her final, a gold medal, came at her fifth Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992. She was 39 years old—at that time the oldest woman to win a Winter Olympic gold.

4 (tie). Stefania Belmondo, 10 Medals

Country: Italy
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Stefania Belmondo

Belmondo's Olympic career spanned a decade—from the 1992 Albertville Games through the 2002 Salt Lake City Games—despite a devastating injury in 1993. She ended her career with two gold medals, three silver, and five bronze.

6 (tie). Lyubov Yegorova, 9 Medals

Country: Russia
Sport: Cross-country skiing

REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

Yegorova only made two Olympic appearances: at Albertville in 1992, and two years later at Lillehammer. She managed to squeeze nine medals out of those Games—six gold and three silver—before her career came to an end due to a doping scandal at the 1997 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

6 (tie). Claudia Pechstein, 9 Medals

Country: Germany
Sport: Speed skating

Claudia Pechstein
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Pechstein is the most successful Olympic speed skater—male or female—in the world, and also the most successful German Winter Olympian of all time. That said, she missed the chance to set herself even further apart in the 2010 Games after getting slapped with a two-year ban from the sport in 2009 for doping accusations.

6 (tie). Sixten Jernberg, 9 Medals

Country: Sweden
Sport: Cross-country skiing

1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jernberg (right) was a blacksmith and a lumberjack before beginning his career as a cross-country skier. Over three Olympics in the 1950s and '60s, he earned four gold, three silver, and two bronze medals, never finishing lower than fifth.

6 (tie). Uschi Disl, 9 Medals

Country: Germany
Sport: Biathlon


This five-time Olympian is the owner of two gold medals, four silver and three bronze, and the 2005 title of German Sportswoman of the Year. She has been the most successful women’s biathlete at the Olympic Games, although she never won a gold in an individual event.


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