Changing China

Giant on the move

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

August 9, 2008

Lucy1Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was my nickname yesterday.

My Olympic opening ceremony endurance test began with an 8am call to be on the roof of the Bird’s Nest stadium for a meeting of photographers. I began my first of three climbs through the maze of steep, narrow catwalks with IOC pool photographers from AP, Getty, AFP and Xinhua. On either side of the path were sheets of glass through which the colored lights of the stadium are projected.

We were told to wear fireproof suits, helmets and climbing harnesses over our clothes. The Chinese fireworks technicians on the roof had sensibly chosen to wear t-shirts and shorts.

It was 90-something degrees Fahrenheit and humid on the ground, but felt a lot hotter on the roof — especially after lugging three camera bodies, five lenses, a bag of magic arms and 50 meters of remote cable up there.

Lucy5The door to the catacombs of the roof was barred by Chinese police who confiscated any water, food, cigarettes and cell phones.

The show was filled with interludes of fireworks, and we were told to crouch on the floor every time another burst came. So I quickly mounted a wide angle Canon 5D with 15mm lens on the edge of the stadium, which I could fire remotely every time we had to duck.

I set the camera on aperture priority at f8, 200 ISO.

Lucy6We were told we would have to crouch in a sunken part of the roof when the main fireworks and cauldron-lighting occurred, sometime after 10.30 pm.

So we mounted a couple of pool remote cameras to be triggered with zip cord to shoot the Olympic flame being lit. The Chinese police said it would be fine to clamp onto the pole holding their video security camera, so I trained a 70-200 in the direction of the torch, and Ezra Shaw from Getty put a wide angle very near the flame.

                                                  Photo credit (above):  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“Top secret, no-one will know until the last minute,” was the response from everyone when we tried to imagine how the flame would be lit, so we could frame it correctly.

Julie Jacobson from AP suggested we put our Canon Mark IIIs on monopods while we were stuck in our ditch, so we could hoist the pole and shoot using the camera’s Live View.

Lucy7As we huddled and waited for the grand finale, a policeman came over gesturing and shouting in Chinese for us to go down the stairwell and shut the trap door over our heads.

One of the fireworks technicians translated and told us the rail we were sitting next to had been electrified to carry a trolley that would transport the athlete carrying the Olympic torch around the inside rim of the stadium.

Photo credit (above): REUTERS/Shaun Best 

We huddled on a 6×6 ft platform above the stairs. Below us were sheets of glass and below that sat the world leaders watching the extravaganza, known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

A Chinese policeman who looked barely 20-years-old stood on the stairs. We had a narrow slit through which we could watch the rest of the ceremony. The cop grabbed my arm as the parade of athletes progressed.

“China’s coming!  China’s coming!” he said as we heard a huge roar from the crowd of more than 90,000. I could barely make out any of the athletes but saw Yao Ming, who is probably visible from space.

Lucy8The torch bearer glided around the top of the stadium, passing inches from the narrow gap we were looking out of.  He ignited the flame with a long fuse, outside the frame of my vertical remote which was trained on the massive cauldron.

The final firework explosions reverberated around us in our metal cage.

I had met the head pyrotechnics engineer when I first came on the roof.

When he found out I was from London, he said he wanted the contract for London 2012 and asked me to put a good word in for him. He didn’t seem convinced when I told him I didn’t have that kind of clout.I hope he gets the gig.

                                                  Photo credit (above):  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson


Photo credit (above): REUTERS/Reinhard Krause


I hope he gets the gig in London too. It was a great show. Hard to imagine that being topped…but if anyone can do it, it’s a creative Chinese pyrotechnics engineer who isn’t at all shy about drumming up business. Go on, Lucy, put in a good word for him!

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

Lucy! Good job!

Sky Diamonds! nice name! haha!

Posted by Jenny | Report as abusive

Gad, sounds horribly sweaty and disgusting. Glad I wasn’t there, but am instead on a white sand beach in a dry 80-degree climate, writing my memoir of a life well lived. Thanks to heaven I live in the free world.

Posted by kandroma | Report as abusive

fireworks display on Beijing Olympic Games where is made by Liuyang China(Liuyang is capital of fireworks in the world)


Wow, what I wouldn’t give to someday be able to photograph the olympics. Must be really awesome to be there.

Posted by Max | Report as abusive

I am wondering how the cauldron came to be. As I understand it, the cauldron wasn’t even there 30 minutes before it was lit. Does anybody know how they did this?

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive


The cauldron was lying horizontal on a trolley on a piece of track, about 15 meters back from the edge of the stadium.
Around 30 mins before it was lit, it was wheeled to the edge, tilted until vertical, and then lowered into its final position.

There were clusters of fireworks waiting to be fired all over the roof, and the pyrotechnics guys had to wait until the ones on the lip of the roof had been launched before they could move the cauldron.


wow, what an adventure! and those amazing pictures make it look so easy too. congrats!!


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