ATHENS -- Statues came to life and everybody lived as the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad opened without incident, unless you count the first-ever opening ceremonies drug scandal. The Olympic Games returned to where it all began here last night with an opening ceremonies with freeze frames to last another 108 years and, despite major security fears, everybody stayed safe.
It was, however, a spectacular start that fizzled at the finish.
Some might suggest that resulted in it falling short of the 1997 IAAF World Championships in Athletics show here, arguably the most brilliant opening ceremonies of any major international sporting event ever to be held.
Maybe this one didn't have a chance that way. While this was held in a big, beautiful new stadium seating 72,000, there was no matching Panathinaikon Stadium, the exact U-shaped all-marble stadium where the modern day Olympics began.
There's always drama and anticipation as the moment approaches when the Olympic torch is run into the stadium, but never like it was here this year.
Kostas Kenteris was to have had the honour of being the final torchbearer but he and fellow Greek athlete Katerina Thanou did not report for a scheduled drug test at the Olympic Village and later Greek officials claimed they'd ended up in hospital as a result of a motorcycle accident, an alleged event surrounded in suspicion. It's one thing to test positive and have to return your gold medal. But how do you return a flame?
It was, instead, Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, a Greek windsurfer who won the gold medal in Atlanta, who was called in to substitute for Kenteris.
The Olympic flame had been delivered by American track legend Carl Lewis to the sacred rock of the Acropolis where it spent the night before some of the greatest living athletes in history carried it through 3,000 years of history to the cauldron. If you could call it a cauldron. It looks a whole lot more like the Canadian arm on the space shuttle than a cauldron, and seemed so out of place with the ancient traditions of the Welcome Home Olympics.
Kaklamanakis lighting whatever it is was hardly a match for Muhammad Ali in Atlanta. Not that Kenteris would have made a difference.
But it wasn't that this show was shabby. It was a triumph, just not a total triumph.
One of the many memory makers of the ceremonies began in the so-called pre-show when - on a track infield turned into a glittering lake on a star-filled night created by audience members and candles - there suddenly were rings of fire. Olympic rings on fire in the water. The effect was brilliant.
A pyrotechnic 'comet' was launched from the video screen and fell on the water, where the five Olympic rings were ignited on the water's surface. A boy in a paper boat delivered the Greek flag to raise for the national anthem of the hosts. And a living tableau of Greek history with white statues coming to life as scenes from prehistoric, geometric, archaic, classical Hellenic, Byzantine, traditional and modern eras circled the stadium in a train-like effect. And that was before 10,000 athletes from a record 202 countries marched into the stadium. All great stuff.
Sticking to tradition, the flag of Greece entered the stadium first, carried by weightlifter Pyrros Dimas. But he marched in alone. The athletes of the host country, again sticking to tradition, marching in last.
Canada didn't appear in the normal alphabetical position. We're Kanada here and thus were the 73rd nation to appear.
Nicolas Gill of Montreal carried the flag while five-time Olympian Susan Nattrass had the first-row corner position walking beside 2000 gold medal winner Daniel Igali.
Like the Americans, who used up about 200 metres of track while marching in, Canada did nothing to add to the spectacle by wearing Roots wear. Several of the Canadians, however, wore wreaths on their heads and the Canadians were the hat-wavingest bunch in the parade, which took almost as long to run as a marathon.
If there was one area where this opening ceremonies did beat the one here in 1997, it was the parade of athletes. For some reason, an uncommonly high number of countries chose to make it a fashion show again with a kaleidoscope of colour and traditional costumes. In 1997 damn near every nation showed up in track suits.
Japan, Qatar, Kenya, Malaysia, Uzbekestan, Fiji and Moldova (wearing shocking pink) would all have been contenders if it were a judged medal event.
Towering over it all was Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, who at 2.24 metres is the same height Dick Fosbury jumped to set the world record in the high jump.
The ceremonies honoured all previous hosts as a runner broke finish line tape, tripping and falling and causing a great gasp from the crowd after "1912 Stockholm,'' the stadium announcer finally saying "World War I'' before the runner picked himself up to carry on, kneeling again for the break for "World War II.''
A PEACEFUL GAMES
IOC president Jacques Rogge brought it to today when he said "may the Games be held in peace, in the true spirit of the Olympics, which were created here'' and looked down at the athletes below him as he stood on a platform with an olive tree, and challenged them.
"Athletes, through your conduct, give us reason to believe ... by refusing doping and respecting fair play.''
There wasn't much of an ending to it all and there wasn't the great joy of the Sydney show four years ago, but this was a historical event, an event of great occasion and the ceremonies reflected it.
Let the Games begin.