London: The 2012 London Olympics got underway with a spectacular opening ceremony at the Olympics stadium here on Friday night.
And after a long suspense, there were seven young athletes who lit the Olympic cauldron. The chairman of the London Organising Committee, Sebastian Coe, and the president of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, delivered speeches and Britain's 86-year-old monarch Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Games.
Unlike the 2008 Beijing Olympics' curtain raiser, which featured 2,008 pounding drummers and a cauldron-lighter who seemed to float in the air of the Bird's Nest stadium, London 2012 opening ceremony had 70 sheep, 12 horses, 10 chickens and nine geese - recruited by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle along with a cast and crew of 10,000 presented a quirky, humourous and vibrant vision of quintessential Britain, its history and future.
In Beijing, the geopolitical significance of China's rise as a global superpower was as much the story as the sports. London, the first city to host the event a third time after previous games in 1908 and 1948, in contrast, focused more on the athletes than the context.
And despite being in the midst of severe economic crisis, Britain lavished more than $14 billion, triple the estimated cost when London secured the games in 2005, for the London Games.
In depicting Britain, Boyle took a cue from William Shakespeare, British pop culture, literature and music, and other sources of inspiration that would speak not just to Anglophiles but to people across the globe.
Boyle's Isles of Wonder show not only celebrated the green and pleasant land of meadows, farms, cottages, village cricket matches and bird song, but also dwelled on Britain's darker industrial past by creating a dark backdrop, portraying 'dark satanic mills'. Horses paraded, smokestacks appeared from the ground and drummers marched through the lower tiers. Yellow submarines, Chelsea pensioners and Pearly Kings and Queens also featured in the three-hour long extravaganza.
Then a helicopter hovered over the stadium to the James Bond theme and The Queen was received at the entrance of the stadium by Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, and the Union Flag was raised. An 'SOS segment' was next, featuring NHS nurses, Mary Poppins and footage from Chariots of Fire.
The drama continued with zorb balls - human-sized, inflatable balls - and bubble guns in the aisles before Abide With Me is sung. The first athletes entered thereafter: Greece first, followed by the other nations in alphabetical order, ending with Great Britain.
The Indian contingent was led by Sushil Kumar, the bronze medallist at the Beijing Olympics who hold the tri-colour aloft. The other 80 athletes, who are part of different disciplines made their presence felt by clapping and waving to the crowd as they made their way into the stadium.
Along with thousands of athletes and performers, some 60,000 spectators packed the Olympic Stadium. Around 120 national leaders from around the world also attended the ceremony.
The Olympic flag was carried into the stadium and hoisted as the Olympic anthem was played. An athlete, judge and coach from Great Britain stood on the rostrum and took the oath, pledging to adhere to the rules of their sport. The ceremony culminated in a firework display, which illuminated the London sky with bright, colourful light.
Now for the next 16 days, the Games will see 10,902 athletes from 204 countries competing for as many as 300 gold medals in 29 disciplines.
(With inputs from AP)