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Opening ceremonies blog

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 12, 2010 11:59 PM

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Welcome to our semi-live-blog of the much-anticipated opening ceremonies here in Vancouver. My colleagues Shira Springer and John Powers are at BC Place, and Shira will offer her take on the festivities at from time to time tonight on separate posts here on the Olympics blog.

Meanwhile, I'm at the media center monitoring NBC's coverage of a made-for-TV event if there ever was one. And because a certain redheaded former NBC employee recently told us that cynicism has no value, we're going to resist commentary on the eclectic new version of "We Are The World." Let's just say it's a bad song for a good cause and leave it at that.

(Wait . . . seriously? Teen flavor-of-the-month Justin Bieber in the leadoff spot? Vince Vaughn, the Dan Aykroyd of his time? Jason Mraz, LL Cool J, and Jeff Bridges side by side by side?)

OK, I'll stop. No cynicism. On to grander productions. Let the ceremonies begin . . .

  • An understated tribute to fallen luger Nodar Kumaritashvili before the ceremonies are underway. Appropriate. Word is his Georgian countrymen will be wearing black armbands.

  • Sensational visual, with a snowboarder zipping down Whistler as a maple leaf in the snow lit up behind him. There was something sort of Imax-ish about the production, which ended with him landing in the arena and taking off his mask. I half expected Celine Dion.

  • The Canadian flag arrives in the arena, courtesy of the Mounties, who of course are always a hit.

  • Nikki Yanofsky, a 16-year-old with a grown-up voice from Montreal, offers a jazzy version of "O, Canada." "We Are The World:The Sequel" could have used her.

  • The parade of athletes, led as always by Greece, is underway. Former NHL star Jaromir Jagr, sans legendary mullet, leads the Czech Republic delegation.

  • A somber Georgian delegation of 11 arrives, dressed in red and wearing black armbands and black scarves. They receive a warm standing ovation.

  • The Mexico delegation consists of a single athlete, 51-year-old skier Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. But there's a catch: The seemingly unlikely Olympian grew up in Austria and lives in Lichtenstein.

  • But perhaps the most unlikely Olympian is Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, an Alpine skier. Nicknamed the "Snow Leopard," he saw snow for the first time just six years ago.

  • Poland's crew of 50 athletes might be the most enthusiastic yet when it comes to acknowledging the crowd. Then again, a couple of Russia's athletes entered dancing.

  • Heard Bob Costas mention Zdeno Chara, but didn't see him. And he's pretty hard to miss.

  • Hockey star Peter Forsberg carries the flag for Sweden, wearing a mesmerized look as he scans the crowd. It's his fourth Olympics, but the smile on his face suggests it hasn't gotten old yet. Here, his winning shootout goal in the '94 Lillehammer games that denied Canada a gold medal will never be forgotten.

  • Guess the border is friendly. The United States's 215 athletes enter to a very welcoming reception.

  • Connecticut's Megan Sweeney -- one of our Olympic bloggers, we might note -- is beaming at the front of the delegation and gets plenty of face time on NBC.

  • Snowboarder Shaun White pauses to pose for pics with a couple of teammates. He may be a one-man conglomerate at this point, but his enjoyment of life seems to be as genuine as can be.

  • The home team enters to a rousing and joyful group cheer. And here were more than a few here in the press center. Oh, Canada has officially become Go, Canada.

  • A Bryan Adams-Nelly Furtado duet. The upset is that the song wasn't "I'm Like a Bird" or "Summer of '69."

  • Donald Sutherland with the voice over as the Aboriginal theme continues with the great bear constellation rising up from the ice. That's a sentence I never expected to write, but that's the opening ceremonies for you. Say this: It is absolutely spectacular. Costas said the entire production cost $30 million to $40 million. After watching this, I wholly believe him.

  • Bode Miller in attendance. In case you were wondering.

  • Sarah McLachlan adds another touch of elegance to the proceedings; she's backed by an orchestra as she sings her song "Ordinary Miracle" while dancers parade exuberantly around what appear to be giant trees.

  • The segment of the program titled "Rhythyms of the Fall" is underway, with a fiddler appearing to duel his shadow. Charlie Daniels would approve.

  • Not sure what it symbolizes -- as usual -- but the guy in denim soaring above the crowd to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now" is breathtaking. How do you get that assignment? (Apparently, you have to be a Cirque de Soleil performer, according to Costas.)

  • Now for a tribute to the Canadian Rockies, titled "Feats of Endeavor," with snowboarders appearing to rappel down a spectacular visual of the mountains. I'm not doing it justice, but it's absolutely transfixing, to borrow a word from Costas.

  • Today's tragedy is acknowledged by Jacques Rogge and John Furlong before the "Welcome to Vancouver" salutation.

  • Furlong takes a page from Jimmy V.: "We must do our best, and never, ever give up."

  • . . . followed by graceful bit of wisdom to the Georgian team: "May you carry his Olympic dream on your shoulders and compete with his Olympic spirit in your hearts."

  • For the record, after being blown away by the visual creativity of the ceremonies so far, I am completely buying the Terry Fox/hologram theory right now.

  • Though k.d. lang isn't quite up to the Jeff Buckley standard, you can never go wrong with "Hallelujah."

  • You apparently can't go wrong with a stadium full of swaying white lights, either. Costas has been reminding us all night how Beijing set the bar so high for opening ceremonies, but I don't know. This has been impressive and elegant.

  • The ceremonies just got even classier. Bobby Orr is among eight legendary Canadians to carry the Olympic flag, looking as sharp in the white as he did in a black and gold No. 4 jersey. Terry Fox's mom, Betty, was another flag-carrier, but I'm still sticking with the hologram theory.

  • A moment of silence for Nodar Kumaritashvili, followed by flags being lowered to half-mast. They've handled this right.

  • Torch time -- the mystery is about to be solved. Rick Hansen to Catriona LeMay Doan to Steve Nash to Nancy Greene to Wayne Gretzky to . . . . technical difficulties?

  • Well, this is awkward. Torch malfunction. Think of something, Gretzky!

  • It didn't go off without a hitch . . . but it went off nonetheless, with three of the four posts rising up to the cauldron where the torch was lit. Steve Nash, ever the unselfish one, didn't get to light a torch. Hey, it could have been worse than a Tripod Flame. As Gretzky departs to light the outdoor cauldron, NBC goes to commercial. Think there are more exhales or expletives in the control booth?

  • While Lester Holt interviews the Bidens, the CTV feed is showing Gretzky standing in the back of a pickup while carrying the lit torch on his way across town. Revelers are running alongside the truck. Gretzky looks more than a little nervous.

  • Gretzky arrives safely, and without the assistance of Marty McSorley. No bugs with the second cauldron, which is in downtown Vancouver. The worlds loudest fireworks display ensues. Couldn't have enjoyed the spectacle more.

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