Meet the man behind ‘dove bike’ Olympic spectacular

The dove bike display at Olympic Opening Ceremony
The dove bike display at Olympic Opening Ceremony
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AN iconic part of the London 2012 opening ceremony was masterminded by a home-grown expert in extreme sports.

The releasing of doves has been a key element of the opening of the Olympic Games since the end of the First World War, however live birds have not been used since the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, where several flew into the flame.

Hastings-based Paul Hughes was the man who created this year’s “dove bikes” spectacle, bike-bird hybrids featuring 75 amateur cyclists, who made a circuit of the Olympic stadium last Friday evening (July 27).

Sworn to secrecy for months, Paul is now able to tell his story. His company Xtreme Action organises and presents extreme sports shows and displays, both in the UK and abroad, but even so he was not expecting the call from director of the Olympic opening ceremony Danny Boyle at the end of last year.

“It has been the biggest show I have ever organised,” he said. “It was only towards the last couple of months that I thought about the magnitude, and how much it meant to everybody.”

American Bob Haro, an ex-stunt rider who performed in Steven Spielberg’s ET The Extra-Terestrial, also known as the father of freestyle BMX, flew over to help with the choreography, while the dove wings themselves were created by Suttirat Larlarb, a costume designer from New York, from plastic sheeting and mesh fabric, with LED lights sewn in.

The wings were clipped to backpacks worn by the riders and gently flapped as the group made a circuit of the stadium.

Rehearsals began in March and took place at the old Ford factory in Dagenham, London, before moving to the Olympic Park in Stratford.

Paul’s work was originally meant to play an even greater part in the opening ceremony.

However, a week before the opening ceremony he received the news that three of the bike segments that he had prepared, had to be cut from the show due to time pressure.

This meant that more than 50 individuals would not be able to take their place in history.

The parts cut to save approximately 12 minutes included a BMX display with riders from Hastings, trials riding, and fire bike riding.

“When they put all the segments together, they realised it overran.

“It was gutting having to tell them that they were not going to be involved any more, but I understand why they did it.” He is glad however that the most spectacular part of his show made the final cut, and said: “the dove bikes were always going to be the most beautiful part of any of the segments – they are the most graceful things.

“A lot of people said that the doves were the best part apart from the cauldron.”