More than 200 petals came together to ignite the Olympic flame. (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
LONDON -- Organizers of the London Olympics did exactly what they intended.
They surprised the world.
Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute barrier in a mile race, did not take the final torch leg to light the Olympic flame as many had expected. Instead it was a ceremony of inclusion.
Seven young athletes, the hope of the sports future in Britain, were joined by past icons in the torch ceremony Friday night in the opening ceremony. The youngsters moved to the center of the field of play and each lighted a stem that ignited more than 200 petals. This eventually converged into a "flame of unity."
Others thought to be in contention for the final honor were rower Steve Redgrave, decathlete Daley Thompson and even soccer icon David Beckham. Earlier in the week, one bookmaker, anticipating the choice of Bannister, quit taking bets on him.
Beckham, of course, was involved in the torch's journey to Olympic Stadium, driving a speedboat on the Thames with soccer-playing youngster Jade Bailey aboard. Bailey handed the torch to Redgrave, who carried it into the stadium.
It culminated a magical night in London, the return of the Olympic Games here for the third time. The last time was 1948, and, often, the opening ceremony felt like it took 64 years to complete, a long journey deep into the night ... and morning.
The ambitious production, engineered by filmmaker and artistic director Danny Boyle, took more than 3 hours 45 minutes. Occasional rain fell on Olympic Stadium in the early part of the program.
But the showers were long gone by the time the youngsters supplied the emotional punch.
Olympic newcomers, and veterans as well, were impressed with the spectacle. It featured a celebration of five decades of British pop music, a heavy slice of history and, of course, that quirky sense of British humor.
There was even a fun skit with the 86-year-old queen and James Bond actor Daniel Craig. The two parachuted into Olympic Stadium. Actually, the two doing the jumping were a professional stuntman/base jumper and a long-time skydiver.
“Once it got going, it was amazing,” first-time Olympian Justin Lester, a Greco-Roman wrestler, said of the opening ceremony. “You could feel it all the way through your body when you walked into the stadium. It was everything and more than you can imagine.”
The women’s soccer team watched the event together in Glasgow, Scotland. Defender Rachel Buehler, a second-time Olympian, enjoyed the way the moods shifted throughout the ceremony.
“I enjoyed the beginning, which was more historic, going through the Industrial Revolution,” she said.
“The gold glowing rings were a really cool visual effect. I liked the music. They had a whole montage of different eras of music and it made you realize how many famous British artists there are. I also thought it was really neat how they involved the queen and they had a lot of humor in there. It was a great mix of the British culture.”
Paul McCartney, who wrapped up the long night with "Hey Jude," tweeted:
"There was some talk of maybe being to playback but we decided against it and went live, live, live!
"It was a trip and very exciting. It was a great opening ceremony!"
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