The Paris Olympics Opening Ceremony: Everything to Know

Renderings provided in a press kit and described as “intended to underline the artistic potential of this exceptional setting. However, they in no way show or mean to influence the final artistic concept.” Credit - Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

The Paris 2024 Olympics Opening Ceremony is set to be unlike any other—assuming everything goes to plan.

For the first time in history, the Summer Games won’t kick off in a stadium but instead on a river.

When the concept was unveiled in December 2021, three-time gold medalist and head of the Paris 2024 organizing committee Tony Estanguet described what the reimagined event would look like: “The entire city has been turned into a vast Olympic stadium. The Seine represents the track, and the quays the spectators’ stands.”

<span class="copyright">Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024</span>
Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

It’s an ambitious break from tradition that’s set to be the largest-ever—attended by hundreds of thousands across the French capital—but also potentially the most-dangerous, as organizers and security officials are tasked with ensuring the massive open-air show, which some 1.5 billion people around the world will be watching, goes on without a hitch.

Here are all your questions, answered, about the Paris 2024 Olympics Opening Ceremony.

When will the Opening Ceremony be held?

The ceremony starts at 7:30 p.m. in Paris (1:30 p.m. ET) on July 26 and is expected to last more than three hours.

<span class="copyright">Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024</span>
Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

“With the natural light of the setting sun, the event will be even more sublime, with a truly poetic dimension, inviting both athletes and the public to appreciate the natural beauty of the City of Light,” Estanguet said in March when announcing the official evening start time.

Where will the Opening Ceremony take place?

Nearly 100 boats will parade down a 6-kilometer (about 3.7 miles) stretch of the Seine, winding east to west through Paris and passing by some of the city’s iconic bridges, landmarks (like the Notre-Dame and the Louvre), and Olympic venues (including the Grand Palais).

<span class="copyright">Paris 2024</span>
Paris 2024

The route will end near the Eiffel Tower at the Trocadéro, where the ceremony’s finale and official Olympic protocols, including the opening declaration by French President Emmanuel Macron, will take place.

Who will produce, participate in, and perform at the Opening Ceremony?

The main participants are obviously the athletes, 10,500 of whom will take part in the flotilla to represent 206 different National Olympic Committees.

When eight-time gold medalist Usain Bolt got a glimpse of the sailing experience during last year’s presentation of the Olympic torch, he shared his excitement for the eventual Opening Ceremony and the crowd that would show up to watch: “Imagine everybody standing outside, across the bridges cheering people up,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be one of the best, if not the best Opening Ceremony.”

<span class="copyright">Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024</span>
Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

Overseeing as artistic director of the ceremonies is theater actor and director Thomas Jolly, who is committed to showcasing France’s multifaceted cultures. “France is Edith Piaf … it’s also opera, it’s rap, it’s a whole range of musical styles,” the 42-year-old told AFP in January. “The idea is not to project a fixed identity.”

In terms of performances, much has been kept under wraps so far, but 3,000 artists are set to take part across the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics, including 400 dancers led by acclaimed choreographer Maud Le Pladec, who told reporters during rehearsals in June: “There won’t be a single bridge in Paris without some dancers on it.”

<span class="copyright">Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024</span>
Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

On the fashion front, French television presenter Daphné Bürki is the Olympics’ stylist and costume director and has worked with her team—including hundreds of dressmakers, hair stylists, and makeup artists—to create looks for the performers, every one of whom she has said will have a unique outfit. “Each silhouette tells a story,” she told reporters during a press conference in June, emphasizing sustainability. “We wanted a circular ceremony, with a mix of newly created pieces, vintage, upcycled pieces,” she said. “The key word is ‘mix’: of generations between the designers, of style with inclusivity, and of sourcing with a lot of upcycling.”

How can you watch the Opening Ceremony?

By holding the Opening Ceremony in the Seine, the Paris 2024 organizers wanted to make it accessible to a larger audience than would typically be able to attend in a stadium. They also wanted to make it the first Opening Ceremony to offer free access to a number of spectators.

In the end, while the total capacity is less than the 600,000 the organizers had originally hoped for, there will still be a paying crowd of about 104,000 (tickets range from €90 to €2,700, or about $100 to $3,000) on the lower quays, while authorities are distributing 222,000 free tickets to watch from the upper banks.

<span class="copyright">Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024</span>
Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

Eighty giant screens” and speakers will also be placed throughout the city to allow people “to enjoy the magical atmosphere of this show reverberating throughout the French capital.”

An expected 1.5 billion people are also expected to tune in from around the world. For American viewers, NBC will be broadcasting coverage—hosted by sports commentator Mike Tirico, retired football player Peyton Manning, and singer and daytime talk-show host Kelly Clarkson—of the Opening Ceremony on its network TV channel and streaming platform Peacock as well as organizing IMAX watch parties for it at AMC theaters across the U.S. The coverage will also feature “NBC Sports’ Maria Taylor on the Team USA boat, and TODAY Show hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on a bridge along the route.”

What could go wrong?

Organizing the first Opening Ceremony to be held outside a stadium has come with a whole new set of challenges, which could still upend the event.

A rehearsal scheduled for June 24 had to be canceled due to strong currents in the Seine, while concerns about the river’s water quality have also persisted in the run-up to the 2024 Olympics amid plans to hold open-water swimming events in it.

Organizers also have to grapple with unpredictable wind and weather; the structural integrity of the city’s historic bridges, where performers will be stationed; and minimizing disturbance to the river’s natural habitats.

<span class="copyright">Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024</span>
Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

But most notable are the security concerns, which have increased in the months leading up to the Opening Ceremony, amid a resurgence of attacks by extremist Islamist groups across Europe. (In May, the French police arrested an 18-year-old who was allegedly plotting a jihadist attack targeting the Olympic soccer events.)

All airports and airspace within a 90-mile radius around Paris will be closed around the time of the ceremony, amid authorities’ fears that the open setting could expose participants and attendees—among them an expected 120 heads of state, sovereigns, and heads of government—to drone attacks and snipers. In addition to scaling back the total crowd size and adjusting the free-ticket policy to be by invite-only instead of open registration, there will also be a 45,000-member security force—including over 2,000 foreign police—deployed around the French capital.

Read More: Your Guide to the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics: When and How to Watch—and What to Expect

Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said in March that, depending on the nature of the threat, the Opening Ceremony could be further adapted, but he dismissed the notion of a last-minute change in venue to somewhere more traditional like the Stade de France. “You cannot plan for a Plan B. It’s far too big, too sophisticated, too complex artistically to look at a Plan B in another location. Plan B is reducing, adjusting, but it is that location,” Dubi told Sky News.

<span class="copyright">Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024</span>
Florian Hulleu—Paris 2024

According to Macron in April, however, there are backup plans in place should anything go wrong, such as limiting the ceremony to just the Trocadéro or or moving it to the Stade. “There is a Plan B and a Plan C. We are preparing them in parallel. We will do an analysis in real time,” the President told BFMTV-RMC. “What the terrorists want above all is to prevent us from dreaming. They want to prevent young people from going to café terraces, to concerts, to sporting events. There is no naivety. There is great lucidity. We will share all the information. We will give ourselves the means to hold a very big opening ceremony.”

France’s sports minister expressed confidence a few days after Macron’s comments that the contingency plans wouldn’t be required. “We are heavily working on Plan A which remains the central scenario and the very, very dominant scenario,” Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said at a “100 Days To Go” event. “We keep working on that fantastic ceremony on the River Seine.”

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