Despite luge death, Winter Olympics opening ceremony goes on
AP National Writer
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — In time-honored tradition, the show went on.
Despite the training-run death earlier in the day of a luger from the country of Georgia, the Olympics' opening ceremonies were launched Friday night with a jubilant countdown by the crowd filling BC Place Stadium.
The festive mood, and the opening act of a snowboarder's leap through giant Olympic rings, contrasted sharply with the grief that befell the games earlier in the day when luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a horrific crash on the sliding track at Whistler.
The ceremonies were dedicated to Kumaritashvili, and the seven remaining members of the Georgian delegation, who decided to stay and compete, wore black armbands as they marched behind a black-trimmed flag. Most of the crowd rose to give respectful applause. There were also plans to lower the Olympic and Canadian flags to half staff.
More than 50,000 ticketholders packed into the stadium for the evening extravaganza, the first Olympic opening or closing ceremony ever held indoors.
Rain was forecast through the weekend in Vancouver, with high temperatures near 50 degrees, prompting some to dub these the Spring Olympics. Rain also has disputed Alpine skiing events at Whistler
According to program, the opening ceremony was to climax with the Olympic cauldron being lit jointly by four Canadian sports heroes — all-time hockey great Wayne Gretzky, skier Nancy Greene, speedskater Katrina LeMay Doan, and basketball All-Star Steve Nash.
About 2,500 athletes from a record 82 countries are participating in the games, vying for medals in 86 events — including the newly added ski-cross competition. First-time Winter Olympic participants include the Cayman Islands, Columbia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru and Serbia.
The overall favorites include Germany and the United States — which finished first and second four years ago in Turin — and also Canada, a best-ever third in 2006 and now brashly proclaiming its intention to finish atop the medals table on its home turf.
"We're still going to be nice, but we're going to be nice in winning," said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
The Canadian team was scheduled to be the last contingent in the parade of nations at Friday's ceremony, marching behind flagbearer Clara Hughes, defending gold medalist in the 5,000- meter speedskating race.
Just ahead in the parade will be the Americans. Their flagbearer is Mark Grimmette, 39, of Muskegon, Mich., competing in his fifth Olympics as a doubles luge competitor.
U.S. team officials said Grimmette would wear a Georgian pin in honor of Kumaritashvili, who would have been one of his Olympic rivals.
The cultural segment of ceremony featured many of Canada's best-known musical stars — including Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang.
It also highlighted performers and traditions from Canada's aboriginal communities. And the highest-ranking official delegation at the ceremony — amid dignitaries from around the world — included the four chiefs of the First Nations whose traditional native territory overlaps the Olympic region.
Several well-known Canadians received the honor of carrying the Olympic flag at a high-profile moment near the end of the ceremony. Among them were hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, singer Anne Murray, race car driver Jacques Villeneuve and Betty Fox, mother of national hero Terry Fox.
Terry Fox lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster, then set off in 1980 on a fundraising trek across Canada. He had to give up after covering more than 3,000 miles, and died in 1981 at age 22, but remains revered by his compatriots as a symbol of courage and perseverance.
The flame reached the stadium after a 106-day torch relay across Canada, passing through more than 1,000 communities in every province and territory.
The relay was the occasional target for protesters, and Friday was no exception.
Activists espousing a variety of causes prompted the relay to change course twice as it passed near Vancouver's skid-row neighborhood, the Downtown Eastside.
"The Olympics have done more damage than good," protest leader Lauren Gill said. "But one positive is the world getting to see what Vancouver really is. Downtown Eastside is an international model of disaster."