There was a palpable sense of excitement
in Vancouver as the city woke on the
opening day of the Games it had waited
so long to host. The countdown clock
that had stood in Georgia Street Plaza
for three years was now showing just a
few hours remaining until the beginning
of the Opening Ceremony, and as the
Olympic Torch made its way around
downtown Vancouver – nearing the end
of its epic journey – the city was alive
with a buzz of anticipation.
However, news emerged that Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili had died in a crash during a training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre. The 21-year-old’s death sent shockwaves across Vancouver and the entire world, and it was with a sombre mood that attentions turned towards the evening’s Opening Ceremony.
As fans took their seats inside the cavernous BC Stadium, it was announced that the ceremony would be dedicated to Kumaritashvili’s memory. The message prompted cheers from the capacity crowd, confirming that continuing with the celebrations was the best way possible to pay tribute to the Georgian athlete.
Later in the ceremony, the Olympic spirit was there for all to see once again as the emergence of Kumaritashvili’s Georgian team-mates during the parade of nations resulted in the entire 60,000 crowd rising to their feet in unison to give them a standing ovation as they dealt with their grief.
The ceremony itself had begun in dramatic fashion, as a lone snowboarder burst into the stadium by jumping through a giant set of Olympic rings that were suspended in mid-air at one end of the venue. Hundreds of aboriginal dancers from the Four Host First Nations then took to the stage to welcome everyone to Canada, as the traditional athletes’ parade began.
A record 82 NOCs filed into the stadium during the parade, which drew to a close as the Canadian team were greeted with a deafening roar from the crowd. Once they had taken their seats, the artistic show kicked into life with a performance by Canadian pop stars Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams that brought the crowd to their feet once again.
What followed was a show that took the captivated audience – and billions more watching on TV around the world – on a spectacular journey across Canada.
A visually stunning light show helped transform BC Place into a variety of different scenes, from the country’s prairies to its mountainous peaks.
Perhaps the most stunning of the visual effects was when the stadium floor was transformed into a serene oceanic scene, complete with a pod of huge orca whales that “swam” the length of the venue, spraying water from their blow holes as they went. The show also included 200 rousing Celtic tap dancers and a moving performance of “Hallelujah” by kd lang, while there was also a stirring and powerful contemporary ode to patriotism by Canadian slam poet Shane Koyczan.
It was the perfect show to capture all that is great about Canada, a country that is, as
VANOC CEO John Furlong said in his speech, “a land visually blessed, rich in history and profoundly human.”
The ceremony concluded with five notable Canadian athletes performing the final leg of the torch relay. Paralympian Rick Hansen, speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, basketball star Steve Nash, skier Nancy Greene and ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky all played their part in lighting a contemporary, ice-like cauldron that emerged from the stage, before Gretzky carried the flame from BC Place to light an external cauldron on Vancouver’s waterfront, which burned brightly for the duration of the Games.