Joseph Romanos column: Time to put the athletes first

The Olympic opening ceremony was fantastic in every respect but one it showed little concern for the athletes. Danny Boyle, the mastermind behind the 3hour extravaganza, did a brilliant job. He took spectators and television viewers from the smoke stacks of the industrial age to the wonders of Tim Berners-Lees World Wide Web. He tipped his hat at numerous British institutions, from James Bond to the Queen, and included a wonderful sequence paying tribute to many of the countrys great musicians. Those watching the ceremony could not have failed to be impressed. The British always do these things well, and the opening ceremony was superb. Yet I was left feeling sorry for the athletes because, lets not forget, it is their Olympic Games. The ceremony did not begin until 9pm and it was getting close to 1am when it finished. Goodness knows what time those who took part would finally have got to sleep. Certainly for athletes who have spent months fine-tuning their body clocks and developing habits and routines it would have been disastrous. Any athletes who were serious about performing to their best in London would not have been able to contemplate taking part in the opening ceremony unless they were lucky enough to be not competing until later in the Olympics. Thats why only 39 New Zealand athletes of a team of 184 marched. That number was bulked up by another 18 officials. New Zealands ranks would have looked thin indeed if the hockey men had elected not to take part. As it was, Nick Willis was left carrying the flag in front of a fairly thin delegation. It was the same with most countries, the bulk of whose athletes were forced to give the ceremony a miss. Whats to be done? Well, there are a few things that could be considered. Dave Currie, the New Zealand team chef de mission, made several suggestions years ago when he was relatively new to the job, but got nowhere. These days he seems resigned to the fact that the IOC wont be doing a turnaround on this one any time soon. Opening ceremony designers like to have the show at night. It looks more spectacular. So that pushes the event even closer to the first day of competition. The last fully daytime ceremony was Seoul in 1988. Thinking back to that opening, it seemed rather quick and functional by comparison with recent extravaganzas. But how about having the opening ceremony not one but two days before competition begins? That would make it a lot more feasible for athletes to march and still be able to compete properly early in the games. And is there any particular reason why the athletes, who should be the stars of the show, should be left cooling their heels while herded together like cows in the bowels of the stadium or out the back, while the rest of the world is enjoying the wonderful show? The athletes are brought in only near the end of the evening, so miss a lot of the fun. I do applaud one recent IOC directive. At this years opening, the athletes marched at the front of their teams and the officials at the back. It was good to see some of the stuffy and self-important officials pushed back in the ranks! I should add that Currie was one official who led the way on this. He had already brought that ethos to the New Zealand team march-in long before the IOC regulated for it. Anyway, its over now, the $53 million show that enabled Britain to demonstrate its history and qualities to the world. It certainly seems a long time ago since that day in Singapore in 2005 when London was awarded the games. Let the sport begin.
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