Playbook ranks our top 5 Olympic Games

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
11:00
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On Friday night, the London Olympics will open with "Isles of Wonder" -- with more than 10,000 participants singing, dancing and preparing the world for the next three weeks of the Summer Olympics.

Director Danny Boyle, known for "Trainspotting" and "Slumdog Millionaire," will put together a show that will have scenes from "Alice in Wonderland" to "Harry Potter" and even "Mary Poppins." The show is scheduled to close with Beatles' legend Paul McCartney.

And then the Games will officially begin.

Playbook looks back at our five favorite Olympics and have asked media members who have covered several of them to give us their thoughts of those opening ceremonies.

No. 1. BERLIN 1936



The first Olympic torch relay began in Olympia, Greece, and concluded in Berlin. The Berlin Games were designed to showcase Nazi Germany's perceived might, efficiency and strength. More than 110,000 fans jammed Berlin's Olympic Stadium on Aug. 1 to welcome more than 5,000 athletes from 51 countries, as the Hindenberg conducted a flyover. Political theater was evident from Day 1. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in track and field and became a star of the Games -- cheered by German crowds but never greeted or officially congratulated by Hitler.

No. 2. BEIJING 2008



The opening ceremonies were the most elaborate, expensive and dynamic in history. The spectacle began with 2,008 synchronized drummers and featured nearly 15,000 performers in a showcase of precision and skill that began at precisely 8 p.m. local time on Aug. 8, 2008 (8/8/08) due to the Chinese belief that "eight" is a lucky number. More than 200 Olympic teams were left in awe of Michael Phelps -- who won eight gold medals in the pool -- and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who broke both the 100m and 200m world records and won three golds.

Media thoughts: Washington Post's Rick Maese on those Games, "In 2008, I watched the opening ceremony 900 miles away from Beijing in an area that had been devastated just three months earlier by the Sichuan earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 people and left millions homeless. I thought I'd find Chinese people angry with the elaborate and expensive ceremony while they struggled to collect their lives. Instead I was part of a unique celebration in a makeshift refugee camp and saw how the Olympics can bring together a nation -- a welcomed distraction and a source of pride for those who'd just lost everything."

No. 3. ATLANTA 1996



The Atlanta Games were marked by surprises -- joyful, emotional and tragic. Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali -- visibly stricken with Parkinson's disease -- returned to the Olympics 36 years after his gold medal-winning performance in Rome to light the Olympic torch on July 19 at Olympic Stadium. President Bill Clinton officially opened the Games. Tragedy stuck as two people were killed and 110 were injured when a bomb exploded at the Centennial Olympic Park in the early hours of July 27. Softball, volleyball, women's soccer, mountain biking and lightweight rowing were introduced to the Games, and Michael Johnson became the first man in Olympic history to win the 200m and 400m gold in the same games.

No. 4. ATHENS 2004



The Olympics returned to Greece for the first time since its modern rebirth in 1896 on Aug. 13. A set of flaming Olympic rings lit the stadium floor as dancers journeyed through Greece's history. The shot put events were held in Olympia, the site of the ancient Games. While these Games were available to nearly 3.9 billion viewers worldwide, thousands of would-be viewers across Florida were not able to watch the opening ceremonies, as Hurricane Charley roared across the state. Bjork's version of "Oceania" -- written for the Games -- highlighted the ceremony, and her dress eventually unfurled above the athletes and evolved into a 10,000-square-foot map of the World.

Media's thoughts: Washington Post's Mike Wise on those Games, "During the 2004 Athens Games, it was flat-out surreal standing in the same marble sills that were used for starting blocks by Leonidas of Rhodes at the sight of the original Games in Olympia. But even more memorable than that, for me, was getting a ticket to watch the 400 meter women's final in Sydney. That night Cathy Freeman, an Aboriginal runner and the favorite, made the most cynical and jaded among us cry as she pulled away down the backstretch. It was as if 100,000 people were rooting for the same person. With the backdrop of Australia's stolen generation and all the racial divide that came with it, Freeman's win that night was so much more than sport; it was part of a healing process between whites and blacks in the Southern Hemisphere -- with the world watching."

A reader's thought:
No. 5. TOKYO 1964



The first Olympics to be held in Asia began on Oct. 10 at Tokyo National Stadium and were used to show Japan and the world how far the nation had progressed since the end of World War II. The Olympic flame was lit by 19-year-old Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 -- the day an atomic bomb was dropped on that city. Tokyo had been selected to host the 1940 Games but withdrew as host before those games were cancelled. The nation spent a staggering-at-the-time $3 billion to rebuild Tokyo in preparation. Among the American gold medal winners: Bob Hayes, Al Oerter and Billy Mills. The Tokyo Games were also the first Summer Games broadcast live on television in the United States.

Lynn Hoppes and Bill Speros of ESPN.com contributed to this report.

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