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Strange day

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 12, 2010 06:30 PM

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Perhaps it has to do with the two-hour separation between Whistler and Vancouver, but an uncomfortable juxtaposition in moods exists in the hours before the opening ceremonies.

The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on frighteningly fast track in Whistler has placed an obvious pall over the games. Vancouver Organizing Committee chief executive officer John Furlong, speaking at a press conference this afternoon along with IOC president Jacque Rogge, struggled to contain his emotions as he said, "We are heartbroken beyond words."

Said Rogge: "The whole Olympic family is struck by the tragedy, which clearly casts a shadow over these Games."

Yet viscerally at least, the communal vibe of excitement and anticipation remained strong as the Olympic torch made its way through the streets of Vancouver this afternoon on the final leg of its 106-day cross-Canada journey that will end with the lighting of the cauldron tonight.

This morning and afternoon, torch bearers such as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Walter Gretzky (Wayne's dad), and chair of the London 2012 Organizing Committee Sebastian Coe were greeted with rousing and raucous cheers as they took their turns with the torch.

Near GE Plaza, Olympic personnel handed out collectors pins, miniature plastic Canadian flags were available to anyone who wanted one -- and even those who didn't -- and chants of "Go, Canada, Go!" broke out organically and often. Mr. Gretzky, charming and spry at 72 years old, even sang a few notes of "Oh, Canada," after his leg was complete.

Curiously, the scene in Vancouver remained unchanged even after Kumaritashvili's horrifying crash -- and after the announcement of his death, which was first reported by the Associated Press, was confirmed by the IOC at 1:16 PST.

CTV, which showed a replay of the 21-year-old losing control of his sled and being heaved from the track into a steel stanchion that made the grave nature of his accident rather evident, soon returned to broadcasting more of the torch relay.

The good times chugged along in the Vancouver streets, the celebration apparently a comfortable distance from the tragedy in Whistler.

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