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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Ceremonial hall of shame
Doves fly into the flames at Seoul '88
Doves fly into the flames at Seoul '88
By BBC Sport Online's John Mathews

Love them or loathe them, lavish opening ceremonies are seemingly essential fixtures of big sporting occasions... but why?

On the surface, prancing nymphs and flag-waving children have little to do with the pursuit of sporting excellence.

Nevertheless, organising officials spend millions on making sure events get off with a bang in the tackiest form imaginable.

The Los Angeles Olympics are widely regarded as the year when it all went a step too far.

Mission accomplished at LA in 1984
Mission accomplished at LA in 1984
Prior to then, Olympic Games and World Cups were opened with the minimum of fuss.

A modest affair was acted out in the arena, usually involving images magically appearing in the stands courtesy of card-twisting spectators.

All that changed in 1984 when LA showed us all how Hollywood thought it should be done.

Lionel Ritchie invited everyone to party All Night Long and a spectacular ceremony was rounded off by a spaceman entering from the skies courtesy of a jet-powered back-pack.

It has been all downhill since then by and large.

Camera trickery at the Barcelona Olympics
Camera trickery at the Barcelona Olympics
Los Angeles set the standard that year and millions upon millions of dollars have been spent trying to live up to what officials believe are public expectations.

Four years later Seoul attempted to celebrate the end of widespeard boycotts with the release of doves above the Olympic flame.

However, some of the birds were caught up in the fire and what was designed to be a beautiful symbol of peace soon resembled a barbecue that had all gone wrong.

Barcelona restored dignity four years later with an archer dramatically lighting the Olympic flame with a burning arrow flying through the night sky.

Billions of people around the globe gasped in admiration as the archer bravely found his target with unerring accuracy.

Spot-kick misery for Diana Ross
Or so it seemed.

In reality, he had not actually landed the arrow in the middle of the cauldron - he had fired it way outside the stadium as instructed.

Organisers dared not risk his aim failling short and landing into the grandstand and instead told him to fire it directly over the target area... some pyrotechnics-helpful camera angles would take care of the visual effect.

By then though, the opening ceremony had become an Olympic event in itself - longer than the marathon and much less gripping on a spectator level.

Football could not resist getting in on the act either.

Jousting knights made Wembley blush
Jousting knights made Wembley blush
When America played host to the 1994 World Cup, soul singer Diana Ross - a well-known football fanatic of course - literally helped to kick things off.

Sadly for Miss Ross, she failed to score an unmissable penalty into the open goal laid on for her at the "stunning" climax.

When Euro 96 came to England, visitors to Wembley on the opening day were treated to the hugely embarrassing sight of jousting knights in the spotlight, along with a giant velvet-clad dragon being slain by St George.

That same year, the Atlanta Olympics brought some dignity back to the genre, though some felt the sight of Muhammad Ali struggling to light the flame was more tragic and sad than awe-inspiring.

And yet, four years down the line, the Sydney equivalent was the hottest ticket in town again.

A 110,000 sell-out crowd was there to witness the entertaining spectacle of the Olympic flame getting stuck on its runway.

Muhammad Ali lit up Atlanta
Muhammad Ali lit up Atlanta
Gluttons for punishment or do they see something so many others fail to?

Whatever the truth, opening ceremonies are here to stay.

It seems no-one can remember exactly what for though.

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15 Sep 00 |  Olympics2000
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