Well, it’s difficult to say what is THE best… all of them have had their own aspects and it could be divided on how they captured our feelings and memories…
For Summer edition, all of them have that incredible touch of majestuosity. Seoul 1988 Evoque me those times were the Olympics paralyzed the country and got all the media attention. It was massive and quite impressive. But every time I watch Barcelona 1992, it tiggers me that feeling of proud and amazement. Take in consideration that it is the ceremony that changed the paradigm of making Olympic ceremonies. Even in the latest years, Barcelona style has been copied in some games, such the Summer EYOF 2019. Since then on, ceremonies had had an increasing style, reaching the top in Beijing 2008, which was one of the most lavish spectacles of all times, opening the “golden decade” of ceremonies where even regional games reached an incredible level such Delhi in 2010, Doha in 2006 and 2011, Guadalajara Pan Am in 2011, Ashgabat 2017 and all the editions of Universiade Games since 2010 to 2017. As the level increased, criticism on overrun also increased and it was not until 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, the games that were carried out in the middle of a huge economic crisis in the host country, that ceremonies became “beautiful but simple”. I remember the commentaries on BBC after the broadcast where one of the hosts stated “it proves you don’t need a huge amount of money to make it spectacular”. Since then, the “simple” ceremonies had been taking place until these days, where, due to covid restrictions have top the highest expression of it (or lowest maybe?)… As a matter of fact, what we could see in Tokyo was a mixture between the mourning atmosphere, overrun costs (again), a clear lack of organization (I talk about ceremonies) and extreme simplicity. In the meanwhile, ceremonies oriented to TV audiences had made their own: Gold Coast 2018 and Lima 2019 were the top expression of it. Fantastic ceremonies… but totally TV oriented. Buenos Aires 2018 opened a door that Paris 2024 will use in its major capacity: open street ceremonies, free attendance and completely TV oriented.
On the other side, for the winter Games... their increasing level have not had a pause as it happened in the case of Summer Games. Watching the almost amateur ceremony in 1980 in Lake Placid, it started to increased in Sarajevo, Calgary, the spectacular display in Albertville, the original stage of Lillehammer… going through the extreme Japanese ceremony in Nagano, taking a great leap to the unique (so far) ceremonies on ice rink in Salt lake… which is my favourite!! And continuing to the amazing level of Torino, Vancouver and Sochi were winter ceremonies matched the level with their summer counterpart. Sochi is pointed out as one of the best ever… but my criticism to all Russian ceremonies is their overrun cost but total lack of originality. So, Sochi was the Vancouver 2.0 version (being the Canadian ceremony the first one to be a totally projection-based ceremony which at that time was so awesome!), Kazan 2013 Universiade was also incredibly expensive, but it was a mixture between Athens 2004 and Vancouver 2010. For 2018 in PyeongChang we had already entered in the “simple style” era ceremonies and, despite having their own arena, ceremonies were much simple than the 4 years before games, the ones which were tainted with scandals of bribery and doping. Until we get 2022 in Beijing, the ceremony that all of us expected to be the return of massive displays. Nevertheless and, on the contrary, it was a ceremony with one of the lowest numbers of participants in history (a “pandemic ceremony”) but that were replaced for the use of full technology. Shortened in its maximum availability, 4 ceremonies in Beijing Winter Games left us the feeling of expecting something else… a lot more, indeed! Anyway, Beijing is framed into the era of not only “simple, oriented TV” ceremonies, but it was the second Pandemic ceremony. Under all of those restrictions, we must give the positive point to Beijing that they did it right! We can not say the same for Tokyo.
Since now on, I will repeat what I have said on other threads, we have in front of us the new era of ceremonies: public open, different, outside the box… we are expectant for the first open air Summer Olympic ceremony in history – the second, indeed… the very first was Buenos Aires 2018. So, since now on, we must think totally “outside the box” to enjoy them. The ceremonies at Barcelona or Beijing style are not a must anymore.
As you can see, it’s difficult to say what ceremony is “the best” without remembering their evolution.
Anyway, if I have to choose… for Summer: Barcelona and Beijing. For Winter: Salt Lake and Vancouver.