The opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics began on a somber note Friday night as members of the delegation from Georgia mourned the loss of one of their teammates just hours earlier.
The seven-athlete delegation, wearing black armbands in tribute to luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, entered BC Place to a standing ovation from the more than 60,000 spectators in attendance. A black ribbon was tied atop the Georgian flag.
Kumaritashvili was killed after crashing on a training run at the Whistler Sliding Center. He was set to compete in Saturday’s men’s singles luge event.
Officials with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and British Columbia coroner’s office are leading an investigation into his death. The luge course is closed until the inquiry is complete.
“The whole Olympic family is struck by this tragedy, which clearly casts a shadow over these Games,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in a written statement earlier Friday.
Some athletes from other countries also donned black armbands during the otherwise upbeat ceremonies that featured lively performances from Canada’s indigenous people, who danced throughout the lengthy introductions of the delegations from the 82 competing nations.
A high-flying snowboarder opened the ceremonies by jumping through a giant set of Olympic rings, prompting roars from the crowd inside the domed stadium — a first for a Winter Games. Many of the fans were dressed in red, the prominent color on the Canadian flag.
The crowd erupted when Canadian speed skater Clara Hughes, carrying the Canadian flag, led her team into the arena. The Canadians hope to top the medal tally at these games, and count on winning gold in both men’s and women’s hockey, the country’s favorite sport.
After a tribute to the athletes, sung by Canadians Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado, the ceremony turned into a technological spectacle celebrating the country’s diversity and natural beauty. More than 100 screens around the stadium projected video and images to turn the venue into a re-creation of Canada’s constellations, oceans, rivers and forests.
Singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan, a British Columbia resident, sang as members of the Alberta Ballet danced among holographic images of the huge trees of an old growth forest.
John Furlong, the chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, told the athletes that they were role models.
“You are our beacon of hope in a world so much in need of peace, healing, unity, generosity and inspiration,” he said. “Youth the world over aspire to be just like you.”
There was a mechanical glitch when four Canadian sports legends tried to light the Olympic cauldron. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, speed skating hero Catriona LeMay Doan, NBA star Steve Nash and alpine ski star Nancy Greene each were supposed to light one beam of the structure and then watch the flames rise to meet in the cauldron. But one beam failed to emerge from the floor of BC Place, the first indoor arena to host the opening ceremony.
A second cauldron, near Coal Harbour, was lit by Gretzky.
Olympic officials said that because the caldron was too hot for an indoor arena, a second cauldron, near Coal Harbour, would be lit by Gretzky.
Speculation had focused on who would light the Olympic cauldron. Many campaigned for Betty Fox, the mother of the late Terry Fox, a national hero.
While battling osteosarcoma in 1980, Terry Fox set out to cross Canada, running about the equivalent of a marathon each day to raise money for cancer research. But Fox, who had a prosthetic right leg, had to quit after 143 days as his cancer spread. He died less than a year later.
The idea of a hologram of Fox carrying the torch the final steps also has been floated.