Canada wel­comes the world

XXI Win­ter Olympics 2010 open with fan­fare

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHANIE LEVITZ More cov­er­age see sports

VAN­COU­VER — The dreams of a na­tion took flight Fri­day with a snow­boarder’s leap through a gi­ant set of Olympic rings.

With that, the open­ing cer­e­monies for the Van­cou­ver 2010 Win­ter Games be­gan, its bold open­ing mo­ments re­flect­ing the bold goals Van­cou­ver or­ga­niz­ers have set for th­ese Games: chang­ing not just the way the world thinks about Canada but how Canada thinks of it­self.

Beam­ing speed­skater Clara Hughes car­ried the flag for Canada into BC Place sta­dium with her team­mates fol­low­ing be­hind as the au­di­ence of 60,600 peo­ple roared sup­port and abo­rig­i­nal dancers bounced and twirled.

As ath­letes pre­pare for their own start­ing lines in the next 16 days, Canada’s First Na­tions see the Games as the start of a story that places them not be­hind Cana­di­ans but be­side them.

The spec­ta­tors, dig­ni­taries and ath­letes un­der the white­domed roof of BC Place sta­dium Fri­day night were help­ing tell that story, clad in pon­chos, grasp­ing flash­lights and elec­tric can­dles, all part of the show and its theme of a land­scape of a dream.

But as the 10-year dream to have the Olympics come to Van­cou­ver and Whistler, B.C be­came re­al­ity, the dreams of a young ath­lete cru­elly came to an end.

In the mo­ments be­fore the lights dark­ened and the show be­gan, or­ga­niz­ers ded­i­cated Fri­day’s show to the mem­ory of Ge­or­gian luger No­dar Ku­mar­i­tashvili who died in a hor­rific crash dur­ing an Olympic train­ing run ear­lier in the day.

The 21-year-old lost con­trol of his sled on the fi­nal turn, went over the track wall and rock­eted into a sup­port pole near the fin­ish line at the Whistler Slid­ing Cen­tre. He sub­se­quently died in hospi­tal.

As they en­tered the sta­dium dur­ing the ath­letes pa­rade, pain vis­i­ble on their faces, black bands on their uni­forms, the Ge­or­gian team re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion from the crowd and from dig­ni­taries.

“The loss for the Ge­or­gian team is dev­as­tat­ing for us, for Ge­or­gian ath­letes, the Ge­or­gian del­e­ga­tion and the Ge­or­gian peo­ple,” Nikolas Ru­rua, Ge­or­gia’s cul­ture and sports min­is­ter has said ear­lier in the day.

“Our sports­men and our ath­letes de­cided to be loyal to the spirit of the Olympic Games and they will com­pete and ded­i­cate their per­for­mance to their fallen com­rade.”

Though it had been a hard day for ath­letes, walk­ing into the cer­e­monies was a pure mo­ment of de­light.

“I feel like I want to ex­plode,” said David Mor­ris, an Aus­trail­ian freestyle skier.

“I want to run around and hug every­one.”

It was in many ways a typ­i­cal Van­cou­ver wel­come to the Games: the fi­nal leg of the Olympic torch re­lay’s slow march to the open­ing cer­e­monies on Fri­day saw the flame jogged along the pic­turesque water­front of English Bay, brush with su­per­star­dom and meet the city’s en­trenched protest cul­ture.

The cross-coun­try re­lay’s fi­nal day played out in a col­lec­tion of in­ter­con­nected scenes, wo­ven to­gether by the dozens of torch­bear­ers car­ry­ing the flame home, thou­sands of spec­ta­tors lin­ing the streets, and the pro­test­ers whose anti-Olympic chants mixed with the sounds of cow­bells, noise­mak­ers and bag­pipes.

“I think that the torch needs to be run right off the road,” said one of the pro­test­ers, Lauren Gill, af­ter the torch dis­ap­peared around a cor­ner.

“ We’re ba­si­cally stand­ing up and say­ing, ’No, we’re not go­ing to ac­cept this, we’re not go­ing to ac­cept that torch com­ing through here and the Games be­ing held in our city.”

In the hours be­fore the open­ing cer­e­monies, the flame burned at the abo­rig­i­nal pavil­ion staged by the Four Host First Na­tions, a col­lec­tion of na­tive bands who have en­dorsed the Games in ex­change for mil­lions of dol­lars in gov­ern­ment cash and land.

Four wel­come poles — rep­re­sent­ing the Squamish, TseilWau­tuth, Lil’wat and Muqueam — in­flated from the floor of the sta­dium and reached their arms out to the crowd as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of each band cir­cled a mas­sive drum.

With min­utes, the en­tire floor of the sta­dium was cov­ered in whirling, singing abo­rig­i­nal groups, rep­re­sent­ing all of Canada’s First Na­tions peo­ple.

The Cana­dian Press

Cana­dian Olympic speed skater and cy­clist Clara Hughes leads the Cana­dian team dur­ing the ath­letes’ pa­rade at the open­ing cer­e­monies for the XXI Olympic Win­ter Games in Van­cou­ver, Fri­day.

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