Beaming Willis leads NZ into opening

Willis leads NZ team into arena

MARK GEENTY IN LONDON
Last updated 10:30 28/07/2012

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A beaming Nick Willis carried New Zealand's flag into London's Olympic Stadium, proudly leading a small Kiwi contingent around the track as the Games opened in a blaze of colour.

New Zealand was 134th of the 204 nations to circle the track of the 80,000-capacity stadium, still rocking from director Danny Boyle's $54 million show which sparked the opening ceremony into life on a cool London evening.

Led by Beijing 1500m silver medallist Willis, wearing the traditional Maori cloak, the team arrived at 11.20pm (local time), in between The Netherlands and Nicaragua.

The New Zealanders wore a classic black uniform emblazoned with the silver fern and the constellation of the Southern Cross.

It was designed by prominent Maori artist Rangi Kapa, and features the words of a Maori proverb which loosely translates: "a small cluster of warriors can defeat a great army".

It was indeed a small cluster, as team officials had earlier confirmed just 39 of the New Zealand team's 184 athletes had chosen to march.

Some had their first day of competition looming, others, like defending women's shot put gold medallist Valerie Adams, was training elsewhere in Europe with her event not happening until the second week.

Of the other nations, Jamaica received one of the biggest cheers, thanks to their choice of flagbearer, sprint superstar Usain Bolt.

Cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy carried Great Britain's flag as they arrived last, while basketball giant Lauren Jackson got the honour of being Australia's flagbearer.

The athletes marched to songs including Adele's Rolling In The Deep, Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees, Pet Shop Boys' West End Girls and Heroes by David Bowie.

Earlier, 7500 volunteers from around the world, with every continent represented, played out Boyle's extravaganza which was two years in the making.

The director, of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire fame, appeared for a brief cameo to implore the audience to have fun, and to hope it didn't rain.

It was too late on the latter score as the 30degC heatwave of the past few days gave way to a short, sharp shower that christened the Olympic Stadium.

Boyle's show celebrated Britain's long, colourful history with an emphasis on music and film, with help from cameos from actors Daniel Craig, as James Bond, and Rowan Atkinson, who gatecrashed a rendition of Chariots of Fire by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Queen Elizabeth also made an appearance in the crowd's favourite scene, when Craig appeared in  Buckingham Palace as James Bond to the Queen's words: "Good evening, Mr Bond".

The pair then boarded a helicopter and appeared to parachute into the stadium. The Queen and IOC president, Jacques Rogge, appeared in their VIP seats soon afterwards.

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Footballing megastar David Beckham appeared on the big screen driving the Olympic torch down the River Thames in a speedboat.

Britain's new national hero, Tour de France cycling champion Bradley Wiggins, got things under way by tolling the 23-tonne Olympic bell.

His compatriot, Mark Cavendish, is a warm favourite to give Great Britain an early gold medal in the road race later tonight, which also features New Zealanders Greg Henderson and Jack Bauer.

Boyle began the show by transforming the stadium floor into England's green and pleasant land, with rolling, green fields and cottages reminiscent of Peter Jackson's Hobbiton.

Sheep, horses and ducks dotted the scene alongside villagers in period costume.

It then cut to a grimy scene the usher in the Industrial Revolution as huge, soot-stained chimneys transformed into the Olympic rings, blazing with sparks.

The Beatles and Queen highlighted a montage of the best of British, musically, as thousands of dancers flooded the main arena.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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