A medieval pageant with a 20th-century Queen soundtrack marked Canada’s flag-raising and official welcome to the Olympic Athletes Village in London.
With just over 200 nations competing in the 2012 Summer Games, countries had to be welcomed in batches. The Maple Leaf’s introduction to the central plaza Wednesday evening was accompanied by flags raised from Portugal, Morocco, Monaco and Serbia.
Britain’s National Youth Theatre set the scene of a quirky court. Dressed in colourful jester garb, they cartwheeled and rode bikes down the plaza singing “Bicycle Race”, one of several songs from legendary British rock band Queen adapted for the ceremony. They were followed by athletes and officials from all five countries.
“This is my first Olympics, so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was full of energy,” said Vancouver swimmer Blake Worsley.
Performers executed backflips during a soulful version of “We Are The Champions.” A representative from each country was summoned to the stage to meet village deputy mayor, British Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew, before the country’s anthem played.
Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewksbury introduced himself to Goodhew as a fellow swimmer. They are of different Olympic eras. Goodhew won his gold in 1980, while Tewksbury’s came in 1992.
The half-hour flag-raising ceremony, attended by Canada’s governor general David Johnston, provided pomp and ceremony for the Canadian athletes who won’t participate in the opening ceremony Friday at Olympic Stadium.
Jennifer Abel is one who will sit it out Friday. The diver from Laval, Que., has a chance at a medal Sunday in synchronized springboard with Emilie Heymans, so she soaked up the theatrics and music Wednesday.
“Of course I have goosebumps,” Abel said. “I was happy to be part of this event because I won’t be part of the opening ceremony. Seeing the flag coming up and having this chance to sing the national anthem, I’m really happy and that satisfies me.”
The Athletes Village at Olympic Park in London’s East End is massive and will house 16,000 residents at its peak. Canada’s quarters sit on the east end of the Park.
The athletes were invited to “take lodging in this court,” by the troupe’s poet.
“The bed are long enough,” says six-foot-six Worsley. “They have extensions for us.”
Tewksbury gave the Canadian team a pep talk in a courtyard behind the team’s quarters. He’ll do so again Friday for all athletes whether they’re participating in the opening ceremony or not.
“Our team is a mix of rookies and incredible veterans that have been to four, seven, 10 Games,” Tewksbury said. “I feel like London is the perfect reflection of that. There’s these brand new venues, but we’re doing it in these fantastic, historic sites. It’s a beautiful mirror reflection on the Canadian team.
“The message tonight was sharing the numbers and the team that they’re a part of, to make sure they understand who each other are and to make the newcomers feel really special. When you say there’s been 30 modern Olympiads and (equestrian) Ian Millar has been to a third of them, all the team goes ‘wow.“’
The Canadian team’s goal at the 2012 Summer Olympics is a top-12 finish in the overall medal count.
“Stand tall for your ambition,” the poet urged the athletes. “From athletes’ sweat, to bodies gleaming, dreams of gold are worth believing.”
The athletes were shepherded out of the plaza to “Don’t Stop Me Now,” which turned into an earworm for swimmer Stephanie Horner of Beaconsfield, Que., as she headed back to her room.
“I still have that last song stuck in my head, ‘don’t stop me, don’t stop me,“’ Horner said.