August 7, 2008 / 5:02 AM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX: Fears, foul-ups and triumphs at past Olympic openings

(Reuters) - British singer Sarah Brightman and China’s Liu Huan will sing at Friday’s opening ceremony for the Olympic Games, organizers say.

The entertainment in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest National stadium will begin at 1745 local and the ceremony proper, featuring 15,000 participants, will follow from 2000 for 3- hours.

Here are some details on the last three Olympic opening ceremonies.

ATHENS, GREECE, August 13, 2004:

— Crowd: 75,000 in futuristic new Olympic Stadium, and up to 4 billion TV viewers. About 10,500 athletes from 202 countries.

— Ceremony: A heartbeat of drums counted down. Amid torchlight and fireworks, giant sculptures appeared above the waters of the arena, and a frieze of Greek myth and history paraded by. Three hours of music, dance and fireworks started with a song from opera diva Maria Callas. Olympic sailing gold medalist Nikolaos Kaklamanakis lit the torch.

— Historic moments: The troubled nations of Iraq and Afghanistan won the biggest cheers in the athletes parade, and roars of approval met hand-holding North and South Koreans.

— Pre-ceremony issues: Not being ready. Greece faced criticism about construction delays and security concerns, and a doping debacle involving two of its leading sprinters.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, September 15, 2000:

— Crowd: 110,000 at Stadium Australia, and 3.5 million live television audience. About 10,649 athletes, from 199 countries.

— Ceremony: Spectators belted out “Waltzing Matilda”, and shouted trademark greeting “G’Day” before the show began with a lone horseman galloping into the arena and cracking his whip.

— Athlete and aboriginal rights figure Cathy Freeman lit the flame. Olympic organizers froze with fear as the cauldron that was to lift the flame over the stadium stuck for three minutes before finally rising. Aussies John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John sang a specially-composed song “Dare to Dream”.

— Historic moments: Athletes from North and South Korea join hands and march together, following a historic June summit. Newly independent East Timor compete as independents, as they have no elected government or Olympic committee.

— Pre-ceremony issues: Transport foul-ups. But all came right on the night.

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ATLANTA, U.S., July 19, 1996:

— Crowd: 85,000 spectators and 3.5 billion television viewers. Around 10,000 athletes from 197 countries.

— Ceremony: Four-hour opening ceremony acclaimed as a stylish mix of Americana and Ancient Greece. Former boxer Muhammad Ali lit the torch.

— Head of Polish delegation collapsed in athletes parade, and later died of an apparent heart attack.

— Historic moments: Atlanta was the centenary Olympics — 100 years after the Games restarted in Athens. A record 197 countries took part, every country invited by the IOC accepted, and 10 nations made their first appearance. A bomb in the Centennial Olympic Park complex killed one woman on July 27.

— Pre-ceremony issues: Excitement was tinged with sadness as Americans mourned the 230 people killed in a crash of a TWA airliner off New York two days before the Games opened.

— Traffic snarls, occasional poor organization and a commercial approach to the Olympic ideal were all criticized. organizers failed their first major transport test at the opening ceremony. Subway trains were infrequent and packed.

Sources: Reuters

Writing by Gillian Murdoch, Beijing Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Ed Osmond

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