From London 1908 to Paris 2024 to break with 124-year tradition
Patricio Díaz
July 10, 2024

The Olympic Games were not born with an opening ceremony, the London 1908 edition being the first to include an opening ceremony with the typical ceremonial parade of the official delegations. In Antwerp 1920, it was officially instituted. Now, Paris 2024 has set its focus on the Seine, its backbone, to replace the usual ceremonies in the Olympic Stadium. 116 years ago, Shepperd’s Bush Stadium was the first purpose-built stadium to host an edition of the Games. There, with some 70,000 spectators, including King Edward VII, the first parade of the participating nations was held on July 13, 1908.

The press of the time reflected a couple of curiosities: the refusal of the athletes from Ireland and Finland to parade under the British and Russian flags, respectively; as well as the refusal of the flag bearer of the United States to bow to the King. From that moment on, this event has grown to reach its own personality, with a great technical development and an exponential increase in the resources invested. From the man of the future flying in the skies of Los Angeles in 1984 to the performance of Queen Elizabeth II in London 2012, passing through the fireworks ecstasy of Beijing 2008, are just some of the milestones that the navigable ceremony in Paris wants to surpass.

The waters of the Seine, controversial for its level of pollution, will be the stage on which some 10,500 athletes, in equality between men and women for the first time in the Olympics, will parade aboard boats in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators.

The colorful and massive parade will start at the Austerlitz Bridge, named after Napoleon’s main victory, heading towards Île Saint-Louis, in memory of the monarch who reached the altars. On the banks of the course, the elegant mansions will be the main frame of the passage of the athletes heading west, surrounded also by the Île de la Cité, the founding heart of old Paris. In this next stretch, the eyes of the athletes will surely turn to Notre-Dame and the final stretches of the restoration after the fire of 2019, which threatened the total destruction of the imposing structure of the medieval Gothic. Then, following the course of the waters of the Seine, the parade will pass under iconic bridges, such as the Pont Neuf, the oldest in Paris, and the Pont des Arts, traditional connection to the Louvre.

SOME 1 BILLION SPECTATORS

From then on, the cameras will focus on the Place de la Concorde, Les Invalides and the Grand Palais (site of the 1900 Universal Exposition), with an estimated 1 billion viewers. The inaugural parade will finally reach, and it could not be otherwise, the Jena Bridge, the closest point to the greatest Parisian symbol: the Eiffel Tower.

In an unprecedented gesture, most people will be able to enjoy the opening ceremony free of charge from the upper quays of the Seine. For those who want to be closer, on the lower piers, tickets will be required. To ensure that everyone present can enjoy the spectacle, approximately 80 giant screens and strategically placed loudspeaker systems will be installed. The tour will be accompanied by countless Phryges, the mascots inspired by the Phrygian caps, symbols of freedom in the French Revolution.

ANTI-TERRORIST PERIMETER

The concern for the safety of athletes, spectators and authorities, whose danger increases in an outdoor ceremony, is understandable among many experts in the field. The explicit terrorist threat has made the security operation rise to the challenge. The 6 kilometers of the route that the 87 boats will travel will be an anti-terrorist perimeter that will be closed from July 18, forcing a search of those who want to enter the sector. Among those affected will also be the people who go to hotels or restaurants in the area. In the previous days there will be specific places to cross the river in order to visit the Louvre and other museums.

But beyond the concern and measures to minimize the risks involved, this ceremony, although not unprecedented, will mark a before and after. Neither Edward VII nor Pierre de Coubertin will be present, as in the first Olympic parade, but the presidents of France and the IOC, Emmanuel Macron and Thomas Bach, will lead the ceremony. Inauguration that will account for the more than one hundred years of distance between the two landmarks, in the most illuminated night of the ‘City of Light’.

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