Panasonic's World Team Prepares a Big Surprise at the Opening Ceremony
Fireworks blaze from the top of the ASTROVISION and the Opening Ceremony begins.
An almost eerie hush hangs over the stadium, its center glistening with water. Darkness descends on the expectant crowd as they wait for the opening, and the glow of their penlights spreads. Against a backdrop depicting runners in the short-distance running race, the first event of the ancient Olympic Games, the assembled spectators watch the numbers on the giant screen count down with the steady tempo of a heartbeat. 72,000 voices join in unison: ten, nine, eight...
108 years since the first modern Olympic Games were held here in 1896, the Olympic Games have returned to Athens in a celebration of sports and the spirit of peace. Three, two, one, zero! All eyes fixed on the ASTROVISION screens, they momentarily darken before erupting in a shower of fireworks, upon which a simultaneous volley of fireworks from the stadium roof blazes into the sky.
A solemn ceremony at the birthplace of the Olympic Games
The Opening Ceremony is an extravaganza that sets the tone for the entire Olympic Games. Not only the stadium audience but the whole world is on the edge of its seat, expectations ever heightening. But as to how the Olympic Flame will be lit, everything is cloaked in strictest secrecy, and the world is kept on tenterhooks.
This was the moment of truth for the ASTROVISION screens. It was only after witnessing how they continued to beautifully display the fireworks after the flawless countdown that the Panasonic team could fully relax. It had been a mere week before the big day that the task of assembling the towering screens had begun.
Construction was still ongoing at the main stadium.
As the day of the ceremony drew closer, the team worked round the clock on the final preparations. For the ASTROVISION crew, who could only start assembly work after construction of the stadium was completed, a series of construction delays meant they had no margin for error. It was a daunting challenge as no fewer than 14 ASTROVISIONs, including the two inside the stadium, had to be erected.
Tasked with the construction work were many of Panasonic's brightest Europe-based professionals in event and sports-tournament installation. The World Team consisted of engineers from various countries, as well as senior managers flown in from Japan. With just a handful of members, the team set to work putting up the massive screens at a number of separate sites.
Hernan Poblete, leader of the ASTROVISION team
The giant screens are the focal point for everyone in the stadium. There would be no second chance to get the job done right. Not only that, but the entire world would be watching. Preparations for the Opening Ceremony in particular had to be perfect. Especially being the Opening Ceremony that heralded the whole of the Games, no amount of preparation and no degree of meticulousness could be too much, as Hernan Poblete, coordinator and leader of the ASTROVISION staff, was all too keenly aware.
"You simply can't make mistakes at the Olympic Games! And the ASTROVISIONs are the center of spectator attention at all times. Spectators watch the athletes then check the ASTROVISION to make sure they didn't miss anything. If any section of the screen fails to light up, people are going to say 'Look, that bit's blacked out!' We may be working in the background, but the results are right out front. That's a huge responsibility."
In an added twist that only doubled the team's awesome responsibility, the ASTROVISIONs were part of a surprise that took place after the countdown at the Opening Ceremony in Athens. The top-secret presentation for the lighting of the Olympic Flame had to be rehearsed and tested away from public view. The organizational demands of this secrecy further cramped the already meager time available and had the ASTROVISION staff working even more feverishly on an even tighter schedule.
The climax of the ceremony: the lighting of the Olympic Flame
The first to appear at the Opening Ceremony were the 400 drummers. They marched in while the ASTROVISIONs showed an image of the stadium where the original Olympic Games took place. The image of a man appeared on the screen holding the same type of drum as the drummers. Then, bridging a time gap of more than two millennia, the modern drummers in the stadium and the ancient Greek performer on the screen played a joint session, melding into a single performance. Then the flame lit at this ancient stadium was seen to blaze on the watery stadium in five flaming rings--the Olympic symbol, inscribed in fire.
As a DJ spun, athletes from 202 countries and regions worldwide paraded into the stadium. The clock struck midnight: time for the lighting of the Olympic Flame. Here was posed the puzzle to the stadium audience, the competitors, and all four billion viewers around the world: how the Olympic Flame, towering high above and behind the ASTROVISION screen, would be lit.
Every day of the Olympic Games, from Opening Ceremony to Closing Ceremony, the ASTROVISIONs captivated the gaze of spectators.
As the final torch runner approached the solitary platform, the enormous ASTROVISION went dark, and tilted so as not to interfere with the view of the flame.
For the first time in Olympic history, the Olympic flame had crossed five continents in a worldwide relay to return to the land of its birth. As the Olympic Flame slowly ascended to shine out across the sultry Athenian night, the ASTROVISIONs awoke once more to display the unforgettable scene unfolding in the stadium. Only at that moment did the World Team breathe a sigh of relief and join in the crowd's excitement. But their work had just begun: there were 17 days of competition ahead.