Fire, ice and emotion open games in Vancouver
• Photo gallery: Vancouver Winter Olympics opening ceremony
By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — They opened the Winter Olympics the same day one of the athletes died in a crash on the final turn at the luge track.
So here was a ceremony like no other — for reasons good and tragic.
It was already going to be unusual, the Vancouver organizers having spit in the eye of Mother Nature by planning an indoor welcome last night. The World Series has been in a dome, the Super Bowl, the Final Four. Why not a snowboarder flying through the Olympic rings, a fiddler in a floating canoe, and tap dancers with sparklers on their shoes?
Worked fine. The roars from the crowd were enhanced, like standing next to a waterfall. The festivities were somehow more intimate. And nobody needed a rainproof overcoat. Not as extravagant as Beijing, it was still highly watchable.
BC Place was packed, of course, though no word if all the tickets went faster than the 29 minutes it took Madonna to sell out in 2008.
But a late addition to the program tore at the night, for these Games of Vancouver have already been deeply bruised. There was a moment of silence in memory of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luge athlete from the Republic of Georgia.
Barely seven hours before, Kumaritashvili had been declared dead after a training accident. Few knew his name before yesterday. Now his shadow will carry across all 16 days.
"We are talking about death," Israeli figure skater Roman Zaretsky said. "It reminds me of the 1972 Olympics."
There was hardly time for the shock to be felt before the crowd began to flow toward the stadium.
"It's a bit difficult to remain composed," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said at a press conference. "This is a very sad day.
"I have no words to say what I feel."
LET THE HOPES BEGIN
But the show must go on, and so did the parade of the nations, with all its color and oddities. About 2,500 athletes from a record 82 countries are vying for medals in 86 events — including the newly added ski-cross competition.
There was the snowboarder from the noted winter resort of the Bahamas, and alpine skiers from the Cayman Islands and Ghana.
There was India, a nation of a billion people but not one Winter Olympics medal.
There was Iran, with its first woman ever in the Winter Games. Marjan Kalhor carried the flag, even if she is still not allowed to ride the ski lifts with men.
There was Israel, whose ice dancers skate to the music from "Schindler's List."
There were Argentina and Greece, who share the uncoveted honor of having participated in more Winter Olympics than anyone else (16) without winning a medal.
There were Austria and Croatia and Liechtenstein and Norway; the only four countries on the planet that have won more winter medals than summer.
Norway's 283 winter medals are more numerous than any other nation's, but there were only two golds in Turin four years ago. Another result like that, and you wonder if heads will roll in Oslo.
There was the team from Georgia, marching in with grim faces and few waves, getting a standing ovation for a reason it would never, ever want.
There was the United States, with five-time Olympian luger Mark Grimmette, 39, carrying the flag.
What has kept him going so long?
"Stubbornness," he answered.
Poor Uzbekistan, stuck entering between the U.S. and the home team.
Finally, there was Canada. If you're wondering how loud BC Place was, ask any team who has tried to beat the Minnesota Twins in the Metrodome.
The last host nation not to win a single gold medal at its own Olympics? Canada, in Calgary in 1988. And don't they know it here.
This show was about presenting Canadian identity. To U.S. reporters the other day, organizing committee CEO John Furlong mentioned, "Often, people think we're you."
The cultural segment of the ceremony featured many of Canada's best-known music stars — including Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang.
Special effects included a giant, sparkling polar bear rising from the stadium floor and hovering over performers on a simulated ice flow.
Several well-known Canadians carried the Olympic flag in a high-profile moment near the end of the ceremony. Among them were hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, singer Anne Murray and race car driver Jacques Villeneuve.
At the end of the celebration, four Canadian sports heroes — hockey great Wayne Gretzky, skier Nancy Greene, speedskater Katrina LeMay Doan and basketball All-Star Steve Nash — lit a four-flame cauldron.
In determination and stubbornness, in pride and pageantry and mourning, the Olympics have begun.The Associated Press contributed to this report.