Olympics: London prepares to save surprise, welcome the world

LONDON – These 2012 Olympics have been dubbed The Twitter Games, the first in history to feel a major impact from social media as athletes share everything from their patriotic feelings to their lunch choices with legions of followers. Already, a racist 140-character joke by Greece’s star triple jumper Voula Papachristou got her expelled from the Olympics on Wednesday, making her the first athlete in history to lose her spot for a social media posting.

On the brighter side, Oscar-winning Slum Dog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, the man behind Friday’s Opening Ceremonies, was able to use Twitter to keep details of the show under wraps. After some details began to leak out at the beginning of the month, Boyle put a hash-tag to the situation. He created #savethesurprise, which immediately went viral. The idea was to urge anyone who knew anything about the ceremony to keep it a secret. So far, it seems to be working.

A crowd of 60,000 watched a dress rehearsal of the ceremonies Wednesday night, and #savethesurprise was shown throughout the night on the jumbo screens, reminding those in attendance that sharing of information or photos of the event were strictly prohibited.

He also kept the surprise by leaving gaps in the rehearsals, so not even the show’s entertainers know certain details. As usual, the most closely-guarded secret is who will light the Olympic cauldron. Will it be two-time Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson? Rowing legend Steve Redgrave? Running sensation Kelly Holmes? Soccer icon David Beckham? None of the above? A combination of the above?

This year, even the location of the Olympic cauldron remains a secret. In Olympics past, the structure of the cauldron was in plain view, usually as part of the main stadium. Not this time. Most people assumed that the Orbit Tower, a 35-story red steel twisting sculpture next to the stadium will be used as the cauldron. But the sculptor, Lakshmi Mittal, insists it’s not.

And so, we are left to wonder.

This much we do know about Friday’s three-hour show, which will be watched by an estimated 4 billion people and a live audience expected to include Queen Elizabeth, 120 heads of state, Michelle Obama, Muhammad Ali, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie:

It is inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and will take us from pastoral England, with its green meadows and cricket grounds, through modern times, and then look toward the future. Its theme is officially Isles of Wonder. The show will begin at 9 p.m. local time with a James Bond character landing in the stadium via helicopter. Actor Kenneth Branagh will read excerpts from The Tempest.

The stadium’s infield will have hills, streams, cricket grounds, picnicking families, a charming cottage, and 120 farm animals, including 70 sheep, 12 horses, and three cows. There is talk there will be a fake rain cloud for effect. After five days of plentiful sunshine this week, showers are set to return to London on Friday, but they are expected to be gone in time for the show. The official forecast calls for 10 percent chance of rain at the time of the ceremonies.

The second part of the show will tackle the Industrial Revolution, with performers dressed as miners and steel workers.

Replicas of London landmarks such as Big Ben and the Tower Bridge will be used somehow. And, of course, there will be a Beatles tribute. Sir Paul McCartney is among the entertainers scheduled to perform. The cast of the show is around 12,000. Although nobody expects them to replicate the jaw-dropping precision of Beijing’s 2008 drummers, Boyle has high hopes the show will dazzle.

The march of the athletes includes 205 delegations. The U.S. contingent of 529 athletes will be in Ralph Lauren, the Italians in Giorgio Armani. Greece, as birthplace of the Games, enters first. Host Great Britain enters last. In an effort to keep the show to exactly three hours, delegations have been asked to limit the marchers to athletes and only some of the coaches and staff.

The U.S. flag bearer will be two-time Olympian fencer Mariel Zagunis of Beaverton, Ore. She was the first U.S. fencer to win a gold medal with her win as a 19-year-old in Athens eight years ago. She defended her Olympic title in Beijing and remains the top-ranked women’s saber fencer in the world.

“I’m extremely humbled by this incredible privilege,” said Zagunis. “As an athlete, I can’t imagine a higher honor than to lead Team USA into the Olympic Games, which are the pinnacle of sport and a platform for world peace. I am tremendously proud to represent my sport, our team and, most importantly, the United States of America.”

“I’d like to congratulate Mariel on this tremendous honor,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. “It’s especially fitting in the year of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, when Team USA for the first time in history has more women than men, that Mariel receive the extraordinary honor that is carrying our nation’s flag into this celebration of humanity.”

Other flag bearers will include: Maria Sharapova (Russia, tennis), Yi Jianlian (China, basketball), Pao Gasol (Spain, basketball), Novak Djokovic (Serbia, tennis).


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