Opening Ceremonies in London are a huge, toe-tapping hit

07/28/2012 12:00 AM

07/29/2012 12:25 AM

Who knew the queen was so spry? Or her wit so wry?

Parachuting into Olympic Stadium with James Bond, Queen Elizabeth’s arrival at Opening Ceremonies was the most daring and dramatic of any host in the history of the Games.

Except that it wasn’t really 85-year-old Liz and the suave 007 jumping from a helicopter Friday. Stuntmen — one wearing a salmon dress and matching hat — played those roles, but the quintessentially British gag was pure gold for 60,000 amused spectators and 1 billion TV viewers.

The queen, waving from the royal box with ever-present handbag on one forearm, kept a straight face, of course.

But everyone else couldn’t resist laughing, humming, singing or at least smiling through a brilliant Olympic prelude show that featured Paul McCartney, David Beckham, Mr. Bean running on the beach in his version of Chariots of Fire, Muhammad Ali, Shakespeare, Sid Vicious, dancing coal miners, a scary Voldemort puppet, a cauldron mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, a fleet of airborne Mary Poppins, dozens of sheep and one British hit song after another.

Director Danny Boyle managed to cram 150 years of British history into a 90-minute “live movie” that was both artistic and foot-tappingly, knee-slappingly accessible.

With “Isles of Wonder” he set the stage for the next two weeks. Let the queen’s sense of humor and the beat of British music make the London Olympics a true respite from the world’s woes.

Let the 10,500 athletes demonstrate to countries rent by war and reeling from financial crisis that it’s not the triumph but the struggle that will strengthen resolve.

Let the London Games of the 30th Olympiad begin. Despite the ticketing controversy, security fiasco and budget worries, London persevered. Despite three months of record rainfall — the Czech Republic team marched in blue Wellies in a nod to London’s weather — the sun shone.

Archers, swimmers, gymnasts, boxers from 204 nations — representing the 18,000 people of the Cook Islands or the 1.2 billion people of India, representing Iran and Israel — came together Friday in a celebration of sport’s uplifting power.

For the first time, every participating nation brought female athletes. Just two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia, the lone holdout, agreed to end its ban on women, a significant sign of change brought about because of the Olympic spotlight.

Egypt and Libya received loud applause heard round the globe, as did Haiti. Even North Korea heard encouraging cheers.

London knows about perseverance. In 1908, with Elizabeth’s great-grandfather as host, London stepped in so the Games wouldn’t be cancelled. Rome had withdrawn after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906.

In 1948, with Elizabeth’s father on the throne, the “Austerity Games” brought light to the post-World War II world. Food was rationed, bomb rubble got in the way, but London persevered. The day after London won the 2012 bid in 2005, suicide terrorists’ bombs killed 56 inside the Tube and at a double-decker bus stop. Three years later, the economy began its nosedive. Now the city is the first to stage three Olympics.

“I have never been so proud to be British,” chief organizer Sebastian Coe said Friday. “Each time we have done it the world faced turbulence and trouble and each time the Games have been a triumph.”

This time, London is an example of rejuvenation yet again. Olympic Park is situated on what used to be a wasteland of “rusted fridges,” as Coe put it. “A rubbish dump.”

Tons of toxic soil had to be removed, and in its place the East End — being promoted as East Village — is blossoming. Olympic buildings will be converted into housing, education centers, community sports facilities.

The rest of London has been reimagining itself for decades — from imperial empire to melting pot of 8 million, 42 percent of it foreign-born.

That is why Boyle and Coe decided to “inspire a generation.” Hewing to their theme, they chose seven great British Olympians to nominate seven young athletes to carry the torch around the stadium after Sir Steve Redgrave handed it to them.

This was after Beckham, who as a lad played soccer near here, escorted the torch up the Thames via speedboat.

Not only the identity of the cauldron lighters but the location of the cauldron itself was kept secret until the end. The young athletes lit copper petals carried into the stadium by each delegation and planted at the center. Then each rose on a tall stem and converged into a giant flower of flame.

Clever and beautiful: It was a night to remember.

Even the queen poked fun at herself in a scene filmed inside Buckingham Palace with actor Daniel Craig.

Music played throughout, from Danny Boy to We Are the Champions, from the Bee Gees to Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, the Who, David Bowie, Adele, the Beatles.

We should all be Anglophiles for the next two weeks. Let the music take you away to the Isles of Wonder.

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