London Olympics Open With $42.5 Million Party of Music, History

The London Olympics opened with a spectacle celebrating Britain’s engineering, national health care and rock ‘n’ roll.

Harry Potter and the Beatles joined in.

The 27-million-pound ($42.5-million) show culminated with seven young British athletes lighting the flower-petal-shaped Olympic cauldron after the flame was brought into the stadium by Steve Redgrave, who won five gold medals for Britain in rowing.

Aditya Mittal, chief financial officer of Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, sat in the second row waving an Indian flag.

“It had a lot of soul, it went through Britain’s glorious history and it was very compelling and very emotional and a lot of fun,” he said in an interview.

Medals will be awarded in 12 events today, the first full day of competition. The schedule includes the men’s swimming 400-meter individual medley at the Aquatics Centre that will feature 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps of the U.S.

Watched by more than 130 heads of state and an estimated global television audience of 1 billion, last night’s opening ceremony took a sweep through British history. It was choreographed by film director Danny Boyle, who won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2009.

Spectators gathered outside the park more than eight hours before the start of the show. After several days of sunny, warm weather, rain began 30 minutes before the start, causing fans to gather under umbrellas and ponchos. It stopped by show time.

Nation’s Recession

The Olympic Park, including the stadium, is in one of the poorest areas of the capital city of a nation mired in recession.

“Britain needs a bit of a lift at the moment,” said Karen Saleh, from Portsmouth on the south coast of England, who paid 600 pounds for tickets for a family of four.

Starting with the “green and pleasant land” of William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem,” the show passed through the Industrial Revolution and led to popular music of the past half-century.

The portion of the show on the National Health Service, featuring volunteer performers from hospitals and clinics, was watch by spectators including U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has pledged to overturn President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan if elected.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney; actors Rowan Atkinson, Daniel Craig and Kenneth Branagh, and “Harry Potter’” author JK Rowling all joined in the ceremony. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the games.

Flag Carriers

The British flag was carried into the stadium by Chris Hoy, the most successful Olympic male cyclist. Fencer Mariel Zagunis was the flag-bearer for the American team, while reigning French Open tennis champion Maria Sharapova held the flag for Russia. The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, carried the Jamaican flag.

Distance runner Haile Gebrselassie and 1960 boxing champion Muhammad Ali were among the flag bearers carrying the Olympic banner.

Flower petals carried by each team were combined into the cauldron, which rose from the floor of the stadium to form one flame. Fireworks lit up the sky as McCartney took the stage.

Throughout the almost four-hour extravaganza, loud music ranging from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to David Bowie and Adele pulsed around the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

“I thought it was epic, a little long, but I loved the music closing,” Jim Habel, a Los Angeles attorney with the firm of McKool Smith Hennigan, said in an interview at the stadium. “I loved the fact that they saluted all the eras of music.”

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