Canada welcomes the world
XXI Winter Olympics 2010 open with fanfare
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.
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.