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Report: World Athletics Championships 2013

Russian culture to take centre stage in world athletics opening ceremony

The competition has already started at the Luzhniki stadium.
The competition has already started at the Luzhniki stadium. Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Competition has already started at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow, Russia. But the athletes will clear the tracks for a few hours to make way for the opening ceremony, a celebration of Russian history, culture and sport.

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Jamie Redknapp, the former Liverpool and Spurs midfielder turned TV football pundit, has pioneered a way of describing the leading professionals for the viewing masses in Britain.

The son of the ex-player and football boss Harry Redknapp doesn’t bombard us with exuberant encomiums.

No, for young Rednapp, X is “a top player” and Y, who is even better than X, is “a top, top player”.

Perhaps Redknapp fils has been hiding his literary leanings.

In a letter written in 1928 while he was travelling to Paris from Germany , the British author DH Lawrence noted of Strasbourg : “The cathedral front rearing up high and flat and fanciful, a sort of darkness in the dark, with round rose windows and long, long prisons of stone.”

Dossier: IAAF World Championships

Later, of the spiritual restlessness he encountered along the Rhine, Lawrence noted: “The same in Heidelberg . Heidelberg full, full, full of people.”

That’s busy then is it Davie boy?

Yet if repetition is good enough for a miner’s lad who rose to become a renowned writer, then it’s perfectly acceptable for a footballer’s boy reborn as an insightful analyst. Redknapp’s style is simple. It is televisual. Everyone can picture stature.

For a few years now, opening ceremonies have been operating in the Redknappian vernacular. It’s not enough to spin a jolly yarn with a good show. Verboten. It has to be a top, top spectacle.

Saturday night's fever in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow will be no different. The introduction to the 14th world athletics championships will burnish the glory and the story of Russia.

‘Twas ever thus. Organisers of the events I’ve witnessed over the past seven years have taken the opportunity to trumpet their nation’s wondrousness. And why not. If the state bigwigs are going to sink up to a couple of billion euros into an event, it'd be curious if they didn't exploit the moment.

At Africa Cup of Nations openers, there has always been lots of prancing and plumage involving lithe lads and lissom lasses.

In Moscow , there’ll be dancing too. But it will be of the classical kind.

An extract from Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring will be replayed as part of a section highlighting the contribution of the Russian avant-garde which included Kandinsky and Chagall.

They’re even going to project scenes from the Battleship Potemkin. Bless them. But it makes sense, since Sergei Eistenstein’s silent masterpiece is often cited in the top, top 10 of many a leading film buff.

And the chance to inject the Odessa steps sequence is too good to miss.

There’s added piquancy to this particular opening ceremony. Back in 1980, the Luzhniki stadium was the venue for the 1980 Olympic Games.

But that event was boycotted by the United States and more than 60 other nations over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan .

Three decades later, the Soviet Union is no more and the Russian powerhouse is well out of Afghanistan while the west is deeply involved there.

This time at the stadium, more than 2,000 athletes from 200 nations will take part in the jamboree. And with them hidden heroes such as scientist Dmitri Mendeleev – the inventor of the Periodic Table - and salient icons such as Yuri Gagarin – the first man in space – will be feted.

And the host organisers will celebrate this world party by recalling how these achievements and personalities from Russia ’s dynamic past have contributed to the good of humanity.

It’s an ambitious venture and it should work. But they've had to operate in a diminishing realm. In essence, ever since the squillions splurged on the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, the ‘lavish concept’ option is out. The rather more financially challenged Brits cornered the ‘quirky concept market’ last year in east London.

So Moscow appears to be moving in on the ‘metaphysical concept’.

“The most important achievements of civilisation were born in this persistent chase of escaping time – science, literature, art and sport,” the ceremony notes inform. “They are the things that form history. They are the things that make us strive for excellence.”

There’ll be althletic aspiration and anguish aplenty after the pomp and the pyrotechnics. The revitalised Luzhniki stadium will be full, full, full of people eager for some top, top performances.

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