A day that began in tragedy came to a triumphant conclusion as the 2010 Olympic Winter Games opened in fine Canadian style in front of more than 60,000 fans packing into Vancouver’s BC Place with an estimated television audience of 3.5 million people watching around the world.
The three-hour ceremony was all things Canadian. Vancouver organizers knew they couldn’t match the spectacle of Beijing’s opening ceremony in 2008, so they opted to make Friday night’s event a tribute to the local spirit, customs and culture by weaving together several narratives that showed the many faces of Canada and its people.
From the presence of representatives from the Four Host First Nations to performances by some of Canada’s best known musicians, including kd Lang, Sarah McLachlan and Bryan Adams, the script seemed to be tailored more for local consumption than to suit international tastes.
The ceremony deviated from its carefully scripted timeline to pay homage to the Republic of Georgia luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died Friday morning after a training accident at the luge track at Whistler.
“May you carry his Olympic dream on your shoulders and his dream in your heart,” said John Furlong, the chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee.
The grief-stricken Georgian team received a sustained standing ovation as they solemnly entered the stadium and made their way around the track before taking their seats in the athletes’ seating area.
As one would expect, the ceremony had a distinctive hockey flavor, from Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr carrying in the Olympic flag to four-time Canadian Olympic hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser taking the official Olympic oath on behalf of all athletes competing here.
But in what was the best and worst kept secret of the ceremony, Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, joined Canadian sports heroes Steve Nash, Nancy Greene, Katrina LeMay Doan to light the Olympic cauldron.
A malfunction of one of the four cauldron lights forced a last-minute change as only three of the final torchbearers actually lit the flame.
Gretzky then exited the stadium to light a second Olympic cauldron in Vancouver’s downtown waterfront area.
The competition gets under way early on Saturday with the men’s downhill at Whistler.
The Canadian women’s hockey team opens its gold-medal defense against Slovakia at the Hockey Canada Place, while Sweden takes on Switzerland on Sunday at the UBC Thunderbird Arena.