London shines in splendour in spectacular opening ceremony

London: A dazzling display of 21st century technology, lights and fireworks combined with Britain of the old and a surprise first acting role for Queen Elizabeth alongwith `James Bond` Daniel Craig marked the opening of the London Olympic Games early this morning.

Billed as a celebration of the creativity and exuberance of the British, the opening ceremony although a bit too long at over 225 minutes, showcased the best of this country`s past, present and future.

Watched by an estimated global TV audience of over three billion and nearly 80,000 spectators in the Olympic stadium, the highlight of the ceremony was the use of 70,799 audience pixels, the small panels with 9 LED pixels each were placed between the seats and controlled by a central computer to create amazing images and dramatically colourful effects.

The Indian contingent, led by wrestler Sushil Kumar, was among the 204 participating nations that took part in the march past. The Indian athletes were greeted with a roar by the spectators as they entered the stadium.

Directed by Danny Boyle, of the Oscar-winning `Slumdog Millionaire` fame, the details of the opening ceremony had been kept under wraps although bits and pieces had leaked to the media.
However, no one expected a short film which showed the Queen with British actor Daniel Craig, the latest of James Bond in Hollywood.

Shot in Buckingham Palace, the film shows Craig being ushered before the Queen playing herself in her first acting role. She leaves with 007 in a helicopter which swoops over London.

The spectacular lighting of the cauldron by seven young athletes was another breathtaking moment of the 27 million pound ceremony.

Queen Elizabeth II declared the Games open amid thunderous cheers from the capacity crowd signalling the launch of the biggest sporting spectacle which returned to Britain after a gap of 64 years, giving the country the distinction of holding the mega event for an unprecedented third time.

The night sky lit up with dazzling fireworks as the Queen declared the Games open to herald London`s moment of glory in the presence of as many as 100 heads of state and a host of other dignitaries who have descended on this historic city to witness the extravaganza.

The opening ceremony, which magically transformed the stadium into a rural British idyll, complete with cows, horses, sheep and dogs and synthetic clouds to provide traditional British rain, was designed to give Britons a "picture of ourselves as a nation".

More than 10,000 performers took part in the opening extravaganza which vividly brought about the country-side scenes – a cricket pitch, traditional country side cottages, mining wheel and people dressed in the Victorian era. There was also a touch of British humour in the form of Rowan Atkinson who regaled the audience with his famous "Mr Bean" comic act.

Former England football captain David Beckham brought the Olympic flame on a speedboat on the Thames river before handing it over to five-time Olympic gold medallist rower Sir Steve Redgrave.

The competitive action will unfold today when around 10,500 athletes affiliated to the International Olympic Committee battle for glory and honour in the next 17 days with powerhouses USA and China expected to retain their supremacy.

The sporting spectacle will see competitions in 39 disciplines with the new addition of women`s boxing this time around. The 204 participating teams walked into the stadium amid loud cheers from the spectators many of whom had thronged the stadium well ahead of the scheduled start.

The largest-ever Indian contingent, hoping to make a significant impact after their path-breaking show in the Beijing Games, got a rousing welcome as they walked into the stadium with the men attired in blue blazers and women wearing yellow saris.

Sushil led the contingent holding the Indian tricolour as the athletes acknowledged the cheers of the crowd and soaked in the electrifying atmosphere at the brand new stadium built at a cost of 486 million pounds for the mega-event.

Apart from the fireworks and absorbing cultural programmes, the heart-touching entry of many of the strife-torn countries were some of the highlights of the ceremony depicting the theme "Isles of Wonder".

A segment featuring bike stunts was earlier scrapped from the opening ceremony due to fears that an overrunning show would cause bottlenecks on public transport.

The Ceremony kicked off with the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe, produced by the Whitechapel Foundry, being rung by Britain`s Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and the Stadium was transformed into the British countryside for opening scene `Green and Pleasant`, which included real farmyard animals.

It was then the segment `Pandemonium` which celebrated Britain`s role as the birthplace of the Industrial revolution – the workshop of the world. The Ceremony also included a special sequence celebrating the best of British, featuring volunteer performers from the NHS.

Danny Boyle, Artistic Director of the Ceremony, said, "Our Isles of Wonder salutes and celebrates the exuberant creativity of the British genius in an Opening Ceremony that we hope will be as unpredictable and inventive as the British people."

The formalities started with Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, being received at the entrance of the Olympic Stadium by the President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge.

The Union Flag was carried into the stadium and raided by representatives of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.

Another segment of the programme `Second to the right and straight on till morning` honoured two of Britain`s greatest achievements – its amazing body of children`s literature and its National Health Service.

It was then time for `Abide with me`, a favourite hymn of Mahatma Gandhi, which was choreographed by Bangladeshi-origin Akram Khan, who has successfully combined classical European and Indian classical forms of dance in his work.

After the dignitaries took their seats, the procession of the participating teams in the Stadium began with Greece entering the arena first as per Olympic convention while the host nation Great Britain coming in last amidst rousing cheers from the vociferous home crowd.

After all the nations had arrived into the Stadium, LOCOG Chairman Sir Sebastien Coe gave a brief speech, followed by Rogge who, in turn, invited the Queen to officially declare the Games open. "I declare open the Games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era," the Queen said.

Once the Games were declared open, the Olympic Flag was then carried into the Stadium and hoisted into the air as the respective Anthem was played. The Olympic Charter states that each flag must fly for the entire duration of the Games placed in a prominent position in the main Stadium.

Sarah Stevenson, Taekwondo silver medallist at Beijing 2008, read the Olympic oath on behalf of athletes holding a corner of the IOC flag in their left hand and raising their right, vowing to compete according to the rules of their respective sport.

Mik Basi, a boxing referee born at Newham, read the judges` oath followed by Eric Farrell, MBE, who read the coaches` oath.

The big finale was the entrance of the Olympic Flame into the Stadium. It was passed through the athletes to the final Torchbearer, who ceremoniously lit the Cauldron, indicating the beginning of the Games. The Flame will continue to burn for the whole of the Games.

Breath-taking fireworks then lit up the London sky with Beatles` Paul McCartney belting a number as the ceremony came to a dazzling end, setting the stage for the competitions to begin in earnest.