I might be biased but Danny Boyle’s boundlessly creative, life-affirming party for London 2012 will take some beating for curtain-raising Olympic bashes. However, the Live Winter Olympics 2018 Opening Ceremony (BBC One) from South Korea came pretty close.
Live from the 35,000-seater Pyeongchang Stadium, this was a visually spectacular, slickly staged and even emotional way to kick off a 17-day feast of frost-bitten sport. Sure, this three-hour broadcast went on a bit but there’s so much pomp and circumstance to tick off, these things invariably do.
Coverage was presented by consummate pro Clare Balding - hair rigid, research completed - but the first surprise of Friday morning’s coverage was that she was 5,500 miles away from the action in BBC Sport’s Salford studio. The Corporation is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t in such situations. Fly staff over and they’re accused of wasting licence fee payers’ money. Stay at home and people tut that they’re cheapskates.
The blow was softened by the main commentary team being present and correct at the venue. Radio Five Live’s John Hunt (as solid-but-bland as his name) was on mic duty, with figure skating royalty Robin Cousins as pundit. They spent too much time telling viewers how cold it was, as if we’d expect anything else from something with “winter” in the title.
Hunt did make the odd amusing quip. When six local sporting heroes arrived, he noted: ”One of them is a former Olympic marathon champion.” Short pause as the camera lingered on his well-upholstered frame. ”He doesn't look like he's done it for a while.” During some wacky dancing through illuminated door frames, Hunt drily described it as "the most fun with a doorway since Monsters Inc”.
Then came the parade of nations, always a heart-warming highlight. More than 3,000 bobble-hatted athletes from 90 countries marched out, waving and mugging to camera. The grumpy old man in me frowned in disapproval at those brandishing mobile phones and snapping selfies but I suppose you can't fight progress.
Many viewers were baffled by the order in which the countries came out, not realising that Olympic traditions dictates Greece first, host nation last - and that the rest were in alphabetical order, yes, but based on the Korean alphabet.
Tongan cult hero Pita Taufatofua went viral two years ago when he led his team into the Rio ceremony bare-chested and oiled-up. Surely he couldn’t do the same in this climate? Yes, he could, eclipsing even Bermuda’s brave choice to wear shorts. They'll both catch their death
Those rare nations with just a single representative - Ecuador, Ghana, Kosovo, Madagascar, Malta, San Marino, Singapore and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste - got sympathetic cheers. The USA team was ostentatiously big and wearing ghastly tasselled gloves. Team GB eventually emerged 52nd, led by defending skeleton champion Lizzy Yarnold. Commentator Hunt gleefully pointed out that skier Molly Summerhayes “works in McDonald’s”.
A history-making moment came when the North and South Korean teams marched together under a unified flag. It prompted a huge roar in the stadium, even if the two flag-bearers - South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong and North Korean ice hockey player Hwang Chung-gum - did look they were fighting over best grip on the pole. (Meanwhile in the stands, the sister of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in before sitting down to watch the ceremony together.)
With two hours of airtime to fill, Hunt turned distinctly Alan Partridge at times, chuntering pre-scripted factoids about each nation. When he informed us that “Turkey produces 75 per cent of the world’s hazelnuts”, it was a low point.
Special report segments came from Professor Brian Cox, Sir Matthew Pinsent and Blue Peter’s spellcheck-challenging Radzi Chingyanganya. Disappointingly, there was no room for Korean affairs expert Professor Robert Kelly or his gatecrashing children.
The centrepiece, of course, was the two-hour show itself - an all-singing, all-dancing spectacle celebrating peace, harmony, nature and Korean culture, featuring a cast of 2,000. There was folk storytelling, lyrical music and War Horse-esque giant puppetry, with a white tiger dancing across the arena.
South Korea considers itself the world’s digital hub and technology was deployed to stunning effect. Augmented reality figures sprang to life, wi-fi torches were waved and the laser light show was gorgeous. It was downright breathtaking when 1,200 illuminated drones assembled into a snowboarder, then morphed into the Olympic rings.
The pumping K-Pop soundtrack added a welcome dash of youth. Psy’s mega-hit Gangnam Style inevitably got several plays. You half-expected Ed Balls to emerge and bust out a salsa.
A giant blue-and-red yin-yang symbol created on the ground looked momentarily like the ceremony was sponsored by Pepsi. The deployment of cutesy children and overly literal VTs recalled the Eurovision Song Contest. Street dancers, flame-jugglers and martial artists injected energy when the pace flagged.
The only real misfires were a wonky smiley face which looked like it had been doodled by a bored toddler and a honking group rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, led by an ageing crooner who resembled a homeless Mickey Rourke.
This time, the doves released were virtual ones, which was probably wise given what happened the last time South Korea hosted the Games. At Seoul 1988, several birds were flame-grilled live on TV by the Olympic cauldron.
An affecting moment came when champion figure-skater Yuna Kim took the Olympic flame and lit the cauldron, her cheeks damp - presumably with tears of emotion, rather than watery eyes from the crisp breeze. The giant cauldron resembled a UFO or an Alessi lemon-squeezer.
The peaceful theme was classily reinforced at every turn. Dignitaries waved and gave worthy speeches. Aerial cameras swooped overhead. Fireworks filled the sky. Balding made herself giggle by musing: “Power. Rhythm. I do love a good drumming.”
It all made for a magical, albeit bum-numbing, kick-off to these historic Games. Balding will also present an hour of highlights at 7pm on BBC Two, which should distil proceedings down nicely. Now, don your thermal long johns and regale us with those hazelnut stats again…