Philip Barker: Past, present and future encapsulated memorably in Winter Youth Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
Memories of 1994 were everywhere at this Youth Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.
The giant Cauldron burst into life with the flame 22 years to the very day that Crown Prince Haakon had ignited the 1994 Olympic Winter Games..
This being a Youth Olympic Games there were no words from Henrik Ibsen or music of Edvard Grieg in this song of Norway. There was no sign of the Vetter, the magical creatures of Norse mythology which had so charmed visitors from overseas more than decades ago ago.
Instead, a specially composed score by Peter Baden provided the soundtrack. The opening was inspired by his own children squabbling, but also included included the voice of Bjørge Lillelien, the legendary Norwegian sports commentator describing a skiing race. Long after his death he became a Youtube sensation with his commentary on a famous Norwegian football victory over England by announcing “Maggie Thatcher, Your boys took a helluva beating!’
A enthusiastic cast of 800, most of them volunteers made it a night to remember. Most of the crowd forgot the bitter cold, though veterans of 1994 were quick to point out it was much colder then.
The theme of a young person’s journey through sport has been a common one at Youth Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies from the outset. Here the starring role of the boy who navigates the Ceremony was played by 16-year-old Eilif Hellum Noraker. He’s already a seasoned veteran and is well known to audiences here in Norway as Bulle in the film version of Jo Nesbo’s book Doktor Proktor.
The tale took him from birth through the ups and downs of a sporting career
“The boy dreams that he will be a world famous sportsman,” said Ceremony director Sigrid Strom Reibo. “What he forgets is to have fun so he loses his spark and his motivation. It’s a little bit different from other Ceremonies, we have to integrate the Olympic protocol into a story.”
The length of the athletes’ parade has been a constant headache for organisers but here, as at previous Youth Olympic Games, the main body of the teams came in en masse. Then the parade of Flag bearers, led according to tradition by Greece, though the Norwegian alphabet meant that some teams found themselves in unaccustomed places.
A Chinese athlete had spoken an inspirational greeting to the young people of the world at the Closing Ceremony in Nanjing. Here, six “Leading lights”, young people one from each continent joined International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on stage. “I am one who followed the light of the flame outside the field of play,” Norway’s Young Changemaker of the Year Sajandan Ruthira said.
S”port has given me so much more tha I have been able to give sport. We are the generation who will give sport its fuel.”
This was a pleasing innovation. Normally at Olympic Ceremonies, the speeches have been restricted to the head of the Organising Committee and the IOC President who then invites the Head of State to perform the opening.
Bach himself had famously called for athletes’ to share selfies at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. He took a similar theme here. “We all should share this celebration with the world. So please use the hashtag ‘#ILoveYOG’ and tell everybody about your unforgettable experience.”
The familiar five ring Olympic Flag had been borne into the Stadium by six great Olympians, among them Youth Games ambassador Yuna Kim and cross country skiing legend Bjørn Daehlie back in the city where he won two Olympic gold medals in 1994.
The Flag was exchanged with six young Norwegians who all hope to make a name for themselves in the coming days. Before the Flag was raised, they paused on stage to be joined by the oath takers. Instead of speaking at a lectern grasping the Olympic flag , they made their undertakings surrounded by a colour party of their fellow athletes. This oath had first been taken at an Olympics 96 years ago, but never quite like this.
Norwegian Curler Maia Ramsfjell spoke on behalf of all competitors. Her sport had already had begun by the time she did so. She was joined by ice hockey official Thomas Pettersen and cross country coach Sandra Alise Lyngstad.
The raising of the Olympic Flag by Scout groups from Lillehammer and Brotum had echoes of the early involvement of the Scout Movement in a Scandinavian Olympics. Boy Scouts took part as volunteers in the Stockholm Games of 1912.
The Olympic Hymn so impressively performed 22 years ago by the Norwegian singer Sissel and a choir of children was sung here accapella. The words had been adapted into Norwegian by Halldis Morten Vesaas and this music composed by the Greek Spiros Samaras provided a link back to the first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896 . That day in Athens the King of Greece called for an encore performance.
Here, King Harald V gave an encore performance of his own. His opening declaration made him the first person to declare open a Winter Olympics followed by a Youth Olympic Games. He also became the first monarch to officiate at the latter.
Yet the climax to the Ceremony fell to his granddaughter Princess Ingrid. As young Eilif concluded his own odyssey, he joined the Princess on the final journey of the Torch across the arena. Nineteen small fires were lit at the base of the Cauldron before the Flame was finally lit.
In a foretaste of Rio’s Olympic Torch Relay, which will stop at a refugee camp in Greece, a group from the Hamar state reception centre gathered to watch the Flame pass. The Princess lit the Cauldron before a cavalcade of fireworks exploded in celebration above the arena.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin once said, “Remember the fire of Olympia , it brings life and warmth to your times”. Eighty years after the first Torch Relay, this would surely have warmed his heart.
- By Philip Barker at the Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena in Lillehammer,
- republished with permission insidethegames.biz