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Get ready to watch the Opening Ceremony: Release of doves

Dove release at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
© 1968 / Kishimoto/IOC

Get ready to watch the Opening Ceremony: Release of doves

An unfortunate incident in 1988 led to more symbolic and innovative releases of doves at the Olympic Games.

It is believed that homing pigeons were used during the ancient Olympic Games as a way to alert families and villages of their hometown Olympian's victory, so to allow enough time to prepare a hero's welcome for the returning athlete.

The release of birds as a sign of peace and freedom started in 1896 in Athens, and officially became part of the Olympic Opening Ceremony program at the 1920 Antwerp Games. In 1936, German organizers decided to release the birds prior to the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. This procedure was changed after Seoul's Opening Ceremony in 1988, however, after more than a few released fowl chose to rest atop the Olympic cauldron as it was lit.

1988 Seoul Olympic Cauldron lighting

During the 1988 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Seoul several birds made a grave mistake, resting inside the cauldron as it was lit, prompting a change in the program. Credit: (C) 1988 / Comite International Olympique (CIO) / United Archives

After the unfortunate mishap in Seoul, live doves were released well before the lighting of the cauldron in Barcelona in 1992.  

In recent years it has become common for the release of doves to be handled symbolically rather than literally.  In London in 2012, English rock band Arctic Monkeys performed The Beatles' 1969 chart-topping song "Come Together" as cyclists in illuminated dove costumes pedaled in formation around the Olympic stadium.

2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony release of doves

In 2012, cyclists dressed as LED-infused doves circled the Olympic Stadium in London during the Opening Ceremony. Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Get ready to watch the Opening Ceremony

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Olympic flame | Final torch bearer | Parade of nations

Athlete uniforms | Artistic program | Olympic flag and anthem

Olympic oath | Heads of state | Release of doves

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