2010 Winter Games opening served up sensory feast
By Craig McCulloch
VANCOUVER – I remember first hearing about Vancouver’s Olympic dreams back in the late 90′s. It was at a reception in Science World (now temporarily Russia House) and a small group of people were wearing the initial Olympic jacket.
I remember waking up in the very early pre-dawn hours on July 2nd, 2003 and heading down to GM Place (now temporarily Canada Hockey Place) to hear Vancouver’s name as the host of the 21st Winter Olympiad.
At that time 2010 seemed many years away.
Now, after more than a decade of planning and billions in spending, the games of the 21st Winter Olympiad finally are underway.
In a lavish ceremony inside BC Place Stadium, the Olympic cauldron was lit by a team of torchbearers, the most legendary being hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
Rick Hansen’s solitary figure wheeled in and led the Olympic flame into the sold-out ceremony, handing it off to a team of torchbearers, which included former Olympian Catriona Le May Doan, basketball star Steve Nash, Gold Medal Skier Nancy Greene, in addition to “the great one”.
It was the first time in history that an Olympic opening ceremony was being held indoors.
The first “official” Olympic experience for many, including this spectator, involved a mass marathon for thousands.
Over-crowding at the western security entrance near the Cambie Street Bridge caused thousands of spectators to be diverted along the seawall beside False Creek to the eastern side. Two entrances there had considerably lighter traffic.
Unlike most international travel, security included both stationary and hand held metal detectors, but was quick and efficient.
Despite a light and chilly wind outside, absolutely everybody was in a great mood. The temperature outside contrasted drastically to the inside, where heat and humidity had 60,000 people shedding their winter clothes rapidly.
Audience participation rehearsal started an hour before the telecast.
Hosted by television personalities Ben Mulroney and Tamara Taggert, musical interludes were provided by Jully Black and The Canadian Tenors.
Each of the sixty-thousand plus in attendance was given an eight sided cardboard box designed like a traditional local Coast Salish drum, with the Four Host First Nations logo on front and a number on the back. (1-10).
People stood up when their number was called. Inside the box, a drumstick, electric candle and flashlight (assembly required), Canadian flag, and a blue cheap cloth poncho, which all 60,000 people wore for the entire show.
The five Olympic rings adorned one of the end zones and BC Place never, in its existence, looked as good. And this is coming from a guy who was there the day the dome was inflated in 1982, the day it opened in 1983 (June 19th for trivia buffs), and the day it was accidentally deflated in 2007.
In addition to the drum shape box at every seat, the Four Host First Nations played a major role in the festivities. Members of the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, Squamish and Lil’wat were first on the stage as giant statues emerged and outstretched their arms in welcome. They remained in place as the parade of athletes entered the stadium.
The audience stood and cheered in remembrance when the Georgian team entered, in rememberance of luge athlete and teammate Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed earlier in the day during a training run at The Whistler Sliding Centre. The crowd later stood completely still for a minute of silence.
After the lighting of the cauldron, which was hampered by a hydraulic issue, the evening ended for those inside with the light of fireworks launched into the outside air shining through the aging fabric roof of the stadium. Not to miss a beat, CDs of the music played during the ceremony were available for purchase at souvenir stands. Cash and Visa only two-forms of payment accepted, with no debit machine in sight.
The night’s celebrations started with a daring jump by snowboarder Johnny Lyall through a giant set of Olympic Rings as the live audience was engaged in the dramatic countdown to the start of the ceremony.
As an estimated global audience of more than a billion watched, members of the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh ? the Four Host First Nations ? welcomed the world to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games through speakers Levi Nelson, Lil’wat, Quelemia Sparrow, Musqueam, Shamantsut, Squamish, and Dennis Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh.
Surrounded by four welcome poles, one for each of the Four Host First Nations, more than 300 young First Nations, Inuit and Métis performers danced in an unprecedented gathering of Aboriginal youth from every region and language family within Canada, sharing their rich and diverse culture amongst themselves and with the world.
More than 2,600 athletes from 82 National Olympic Committees entered the stadium led by their country’s flagbearer.
All teams were greeted warmly by the audience with a particularly enthusiastic welcome to the home team from Canada. Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado, the first of many headliners involved in the event, paid tribute to the athletes in the high-energy duet Bang the Drum.
With the theme “landscape of a dream,” the audience was transported across Canada, from the Prairies to the peaks of mountain tops, the depths of the ocean, and through its varied seasons as BC Place transformed into different landscapes through images projected onto all surfaces, including the building’s roof fabric, stages, screens, and members of the audience dressed all in white.
Poetry, recited throughout the ceremony by renowned Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, added depth to the show.
In a remarkable transition, a night sky filled with the shimmering aurora borealis (northern lights), constellations and an enormous spirit bear gave way to ocean depths as a pod of orca whales migrated across the stage, spraying water from their blowholes.
Later, in a sequence inspired by Canadian artist Emily Carr, ancient totem poles were transformed into a towering stand of Douglas firs. Members of the Alberta Ballet and a corp of local dancers, performed beneath the towering leafy boughs as Sarah McLachlan performed Ordinary Miracle.
Loreena McKennitt added a Celtic lilt to the evening with her performance of The Old Ways on a Gaelic harp. Moments later amid a carpet of red maple leafs, Cape Breton’s Ashley MacIsaacand tap soloist Brock Jellison added some heat into the night as over 200 tap dancers and dancing fiddlers, created an explosive, fiery beat. Keeping the rhythm at a pace were fiddlers Calvin Vollrath, André Brunet, Daniel Lapp, Samantha Robichaud, Sierra Noble, and April Verch.
The song Both Sides Now by revered singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell accompanied asolo performance by aerialist and Ècole nationale de cirque student Thomas Saulgrain, who soared through a field of golden wheat, inspired by the Canadian classic W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind.
As the night continued, a flock of doves created through light rose skyward as k.d. lang sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Garou urged the athletes to aim Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin (A Little Higher, A Littler Farther) and soprano Measha Brueggergosman powered through the Olympic Anthem as the Olympic flag was raised.
Montreal singing sensation Nikki Yanofsky, 16, also lent her talents to O Canada with the raising of the Canadian flag.
The Olympic Flag was carried into BC Place by eight notable Canadians: humanitarian Romeo Dallaire; Betty Fox, mother of cancer activist Terry Fox; world renowned singer Anne Murray; champion ice hockey player Bobby Orr; astronaut Julie Payette; Olympic gold medal figure skater Barbara Ann Scott; internationally acclaimed actor Donald Sutherland; and world champion Formula 1 driver Jacques Villeneuve.
John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), encouraged the athletes to seize the moment while competing at Canada’s Games to dream big and inspire the youth of the world.
“You are role models for our children ? heroes, giants, champions ? the best ever. You are living proof that men and women everywhere are capable of doing great good and that in life as it is in sport we should always give our best and never ever give up,” he said.
“From whatever continent you have come, we welcome you to Canada ? a country with a generous heart. We love that you are here. You are among good friends. Vous êtes parmis vos amis.”
Governor General Michäelle Jean, officially declared the XXI Olympic Winter Games open as she joined Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the chiefs of the Four Host First Nations, in watching the evening’s celebration.
“Here we are, back in Canada, for the third time in the history of the Olympic Games. After Montreal and Calgary, it is now the turn of the West Coast of this wonderful sports loving nation to host the world’s athletes. Thank you Canada for this great loyalty to the Olympic ideals,” said Rogge.
“Dear athletes, these Games belong to you . . . so give them the magic that we all desire through your performances and your conduct. Remember that you are role models for the youth of the world. There is no glory without responsibility.”
The ceremony concluded with five notable Canadian athletes, performing the final leg of the torch relay.
Rick Hansen, Canada’s Man in Motion, passed off the flame to Catriona LeMay Doan (multiple Olympic gold medallist in speed skating) who, along with Steve Nash (Olympian and National Basketball Association MVP), Nancy Greene Raine(Olympic gold medallist in alpine skiing) and Wayne Gretzky (one of the most honoured hockey players of all time) lit a contemporary cauldron that emerged from the field of play.
To ensure the Olympic Flame burns for the full 17 days of the Games, an external cauldron was ignited by Gretzky who carried the flame from BC Place to the Vancouver waterfront.
Framed by the mountains and the waters of Burrard Inlet, the cauldron will serve as a lasting legacy of the 2010 Winter Games and late VANOC chairman Jack Poole, who died prior to seeing his dream come true.
- Craig McCulloch with a files from VANOC.
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