Vancouver Winter Olympics Open After Tragedy

Vancouver Winter Olympics Open After Tragedy
Sandra Behne/Bongarts/Getty

updated 02/13/2010 at 02:20 AM EST

originally published 02/13/2010 02:20AM

A special-effects laden opening ceremony welcomed the world to the 2010 Winter Olympics. But amid the spectacle, a fallen athlete was never far from everyone's minds.

Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died early Friday during a practice run when he lost control of his sled and crashed over a safety railing into a steel beam. The remaining seven members of his team decided to carry on with the competition and were greeted with a standing ovation when they entered BC Place Stadium.

Moment of Silence

The audience of 50,000 held a moment of silence just before the Olympic flag was raised, and many of the nearly 2,600 competitors from 82 nations wore black arm bands in Kumaritashvili's memory.

"When these bad accidents do happen they catch you so off guard; never in a million years do you fathom something like that could happen," said U.S. ice dancer Tanith Belbin. "Hopefully we can come together and offer condolences and support to his team and family."



The opening ceremony was held inside the domed stadium because of rain. But that didn't dim its majesty. Throughout, the stadium floor seemed almost alive, transforming into blowing leaves, an ice rink, golden fields and an ocean with breaching killer whales.

The ceremony – far more scaled down than the one Beijing produced in 2008, but no less moving – paid tribute to the different geographic areas of Canada, from Quebec to the Western Rockies. Skiers and snowboarders performed airborne twists and spins, roller-bladers sped around the arena, and a giant, illuminated bear spirit floated in the air.

Canadian Stars

Canadians Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Sarah MacLachlan, k.d. lang and Joni Mitchell sang during the three-hour program. Donald Sutherland narrated the show before helping carry in the Olympic flag as part of a six-person troupe that included hockey's Bobby Orr and singer Anne Murray.

Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, helped give a huge cheer for the 200-strong U.S. contingent, whose members wore Ralph Lauren-designed parkas and knit caps. Biden told NBC that he took his granddaughters to meet Shaun White and the other snowboarders.

"[The girls] loved it. It made me a hero. All that matters is what your granddaughters think," the vice president said.

Michaelle Jean, the governor general of Canada, declared the Games open. Afterward, four athletes entered to light the Olympic flame, bringing about the night's only snafu. One of the hydraulic arms didn't rise, so only three of the athletes participated: hockey great Wayne Gretzky, NBA star Steve Nash and skier Nancy Greene.

Moments later, Gretzky traveled by truck to a second, outdoor cauldron, and lit that one himself.

With reporting by LORENZO BENET

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