How the Olympic Opening Ceremonies Work

A scene from the extravagant opening ceremony for the Youth Olympic Games held in Singapore in 2010. See more Olympic pictures.
Photo courtesy © IOC/Adam Pretty/Getty Images

The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games aren't just about pageantry and the parade of nations. The 1920 games were held in Antwerp, and the people of Belgium were proud to show that despite the vast devastation of World War I, the horrors of that conflict hadn't broken their spirits.

Fast-forward to 1964, and the citizens of Japan had a similar statement to make. Their final torchbearer was a young man named Yoshinori Sakai. He was born on Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima -- the very day that city was struck by an atomic bomb.

The Olympics in general can also be a way for nations to take a stand against perceived injustices. In 1980, for example, 65 countries refused to take part in the Moscow games [source: Time]. They were protesting the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. In fact, the '70s and '80s were a hard time for many hopeful Olympians. 1992 would mark the first time in 20 years that no countries felt the need to boycott the games.

And let's use the 1992 Barcelona opening ceremony to showcase just one of the many impressive feats and performances that have occurred over the years during the commencement rituals of the games. During most ceremonies, the Olympic cauldron is lit by a torch, which is hand-delivered by some famous personage or another. The Spaniards took an impressive gamble: Their cauldron was lit from afar by an archer with a flaming arrow. Talk about pressure to make the shot!

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