10 Iconic Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies

When the Olympic Games come to town, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies give the host nation the chance to make not only a first impression, but a lasting one. 

And with the first ever Opening Ceremony to be held outside a stadium set to take place on 26 July at Paris 2024, we delved into the IMAGO photo archives to bring you some of the most memorable ceremonies so far.

1. Athens 1896 

After the ancient Olympic Games ended around 394 AD, the first modern Games took place on 6 April 1896 – Easter Monday – in Athens. 

The city became a sea of bunting and streamers. More than 200 athletes from at least 13 countries competed – with the marathon introduced for the very first time.

The ceremony included features you’ll still see today, including the Head of State opening the Games, as well as the Olympic anthem.

Olympics  1896IMAGO / Colorsport | 1896 Olympics Athens, Opening Ceremony. 

See Athens 1896 Olympic Games images


2. Paris 1924

Having hosted the Olympics in 1900, Paris was again the host in 1924. It was a Games that would soon be written into Hollywood history through the film Chariots of Fire – and Eric Liddell’s story wasn’t the only iconic moment.

Paris 1924 marked the first official Closing Ceremony and included the now traditional flag raising of the International Olympic Committee, host nation and next host nation.

imago14791341-1IMAGO /  United Archives International | Olympic Games 1924, Paris, France. The British contingent at the opening of the Olympic Games is headed by the pipers of the Cameron Highlanders and women competitors in navy and white.

See Paris 1924 Olympic Games images


3. Melbourne 1956 

The Opening Ceremony of Melbourne 1956 took place on 22 November in the Australian summer.

The Games was different in a number of ways, including the equestrian being held in Sweden to avoid the problem of quarantining horses in Australia. 

But perhaps the most significant development came in the Closing Ceremony. Rather than athletes arriving alphabetically by National Olympic Committee, all the athletes entered the stadium together – a symbol of unity that still exists today.

imago1020704913IMAGO / TopFoto | 1956 Olympics Melbourne Olympic Games. The standards and flags of the competing nations are carried around the Melbourne Cricket Ground during the closing ceremony.

See Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games images


4. Mexico City 1968

The first Olympic Games in Latin America saw Mexican hurdler, Enriqueta Basilio become the first woman to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony. 

The Games also reached new heights. Mexico City’s high altitude of 2,300m above sea level resulted in world records tumbling in the men’s races of 400m or shorter, while proving extra tough for the endurance events. 

Plympics Mexico 1968IMAGO / TopFoto | The first woman in the history of the Modern Olympic Games to light the Olympic Fire runs up the ninety steps toward the Olympic Torch during the opening ceremony on 12th October 1968, Mexico.

See Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games images


5. Los Angeles 1984

After the US-led boycott of Moscow 1980, it was inevitable that the Soviet Union would do the same in LA. But the Games still included 140 National Olympic Committees, a record at that time. 

Perhaps one of the most iconic images from the Opening Ceremony was ‘Rocketman’ Bill Suitor’s jet pack flight, much to the amazement of the crowd and millions watching around the world. 

Los Angeles will host the Games again in 2028.

Olympics Los Angeles 1984

IMAGO / USA TODAY Network / Darr Beiser | Bill Suitor pilots a jet pack at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics opening ceremonies.

See Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games images


6. Barcelona 1992

Barcelona 1992 was significant in a number of ways. It was the first boycott-free Olympics since 1972, South Africa could compete following the ending of apartheid and the USSR had been divided into separate nations. 

The Opening Ceremony was also iconic, including Paralympic archer, Antonio Rebollo, shooting a flaming arrow to light the Olympic Cauldron and the floor of the stadium transforming into the Mediterranean Sea to allow ‘Hercules’ to sail through.

imago1030215672IMAGO / USA TODAY Network / George Long | Opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

See Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games images


7. Sydney 2000

In 2000, it was Sydney’s turn to host the Olympic Games.

At the Opening Ceremony, Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic torch, with the moment symbolising a desire to reconcile with the Aboriginal populations of Australia. She won gold in the 400m just ten days later.

The Closing Ceremony was just as spectacular, with fireworks over the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

Olympics Sydney 2000IMAGO / Moritz Müller I Woman in red, white, blue costume for the French soccer team.

See Sydney 2000 Olympic Games images


8.  Beijing 2008

China hosted the Olympic Games for the first time at Beijing 2008. And there was no expense spared.

The Closing Ceremony included a giant human pillar, and drummers suspended in the air. And as is tradition, the crowd were then treated to a preview of the next Games, with a red double-decker London bus doing a lap of the Bird’s Nest, before dropping off none other than David Beckham.

Olympics Beijing 2008

IMAGO / IMAGO / ITAR-TASS | Drummers suspended in the air and dancers wearing yellow and red colourful clothes perform during the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games at Bird s Nest (National Stadium) in Beijing, China.

See Beijing 2008 Olympic Games images


9. London 2012

Chariots of Fire – or at least the theme tune – was back at London 2012, with Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean proving a not-so-useful member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Other highlights included the late Queen Elizabeth II’s helicopter ride with James Bond (Daniel Craig) and a walk through Britain’s history.

The spectacular opening certainly seemed to inspire the hosts, who recorded their most successful Games since hosting in 1908.

Olympics London 2012IMAGO /  Insidefoto | London 2012 Olympic games Opening  Ceremony

See London 2012 Olympic Games images


10. Rio 2016 

The Rio 2016 closing ceremony is perhaps remembered more for its nod to Tokyo 2020 than the colours and sounds of Rio itself.

A film on screen showed the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe turn into video game character ‘Super Mario’ and tunnel between Tokyo and Rio. He then actually appeared in the stadium, having popped up from a green warp pipe in the middle of the stage! Iconic.

Olympics Rio 2016

IMAGO / Kyodo News | Fireworks above the Maracana Stadium during the closing ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics,  2016.

See Rio 2016 Olympic Games images


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