Memorable moments from the Olympics opening ceremonies over the years

From Muhammad Ali lighting the flame in Atlanta to Mr Bean's appearance in London, here are some of our favourite picks

After being delayed by a year, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will finally begin on Friday. While this year’s ceremony will certainly be a toned down affair because of the pandemic, it is still promised to be a show to remember.

"It will be a much more sobering ceremony. Nevertheless with beautiful Japanese aesthetics. Very Japanese but also in sync with the sentiment of today – the reality," Marco Balich, long-time opening ceremonies executive producer, and now a senior adviser to the Tokyo executive producer, told Reuters. "We have to do our best to complete this unique and hopefully the only one of its kind Olympics."

Ahead of Tokyo’s opening ceremony, we take a look back at some memorable and emotional moments from past Olympics opening ceremonies.

John Williams introduces the Olympic theme, Los Angeles 1984

Although now a familiar anthem to fans of the Games, the Olympic Fanfare and Theme created by American composer John Williams made its debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, where he performed it live. The score, which has since been remixed with Leo Arnaud’s Bugler’s March, is now what fans hear when they tune in to watch the event.

Muhammed Ali lights the torch, Atlanta 1996

The final torchbearer gets to light the Olympic cauldron and it is almost always kept a secret. Janet Evans, who won four gold medals for Team USA during the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, didn’t even know who she would be handing the flame to until the time came.

The honour went to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who was then showing visible signs of Parkinson’s disease. It was an emotional and inspiring scene that took place in front of thousands of people in attendance.

Russian Police Choir sing ‘Get Lucky’, Sochi 2014

The Russian Red Army Choir became internet sensations with their cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky during the Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi. Dressed in their police uniforms and dancing to the catchy tune, they certainly put on an entertaining and memorable performance at the event.

Pavarotti’s last public performance, Turin 2006

After retiring from public performance on his 70th birthday in 2005, Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti didn’t stay out of the limelight for long. Although later revealed to have been pre-recorded due to frigid temperatures, Pavarotti’s powerful performance of Nessun Dorma at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin received the longest and loudest ovation of the night.

Cathy Freeman is a vision in white, Sydney 2000

Aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman lit the flame in a spectacular opening ceremony at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Carrying the torch up several flight of stairs while dressed in a white, fireproof bodysuit, she walked into the centre of a pool of water where a ring-shaped cauldron emerged. After lighting it, the cauldron lifted, with the water descending around her in a ring. A few weeks later, Freeman would go on to win the gold medal in the 400-metre race.

2,008 drummers stay in sync, Beijing 2008

In one of the longer opening ceremonies at just over four hours, fans were in for a treat at the 2008 Beijing Games. While there were plenty of memorable moments from the event, it was the 2,008 drummers who stole the show by mesmerising the crowd as they played the bronze fou drums while staying perfectly in sync with one another in a beautifully choreographed routine.

An archer lights the flame, Barcelona 1992

For many years, lighting the Olympic torch was fairly standard but Barcelona got creative when they chose Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo to do so at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Rebello, who won a silver and a bronze medal at the 1984 and 1988 Games respectively, took his place on a podium inside the stadium and shot an arrow on fire towards the Olympic cauldron, officially kicking off the Games.

Mr Bean’s Live Performance, London 2012

In what was viewed as a “love letter to Britain", the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics featured one of the UK's most famous exports: Mr Bean. During a performance of Chariots of Fire by the London Symphony Orchestra, actor Rowan Atkinson reprised his famous role, comedically playing a repeated note on the synthesizer before daydreaming about joining runners from the film Chariots of Fire.

Updated: July 22nd 2021, 1:19 PM