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Olympic Opening Ceremony Dedicated to Fallen Athlete

Glittering ceremony has been marked by sadness over death of athlete earlier today

By tamer el-ghobashy
|  Saturday, Feb 13, 2010  |  Updated 1:23 PM PDT
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Excitement and sadness mingled as the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics kicked off after the tragic death of an athlete dampened the mood leading up to the glittering event.

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Excitement and sadness mingled as the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics kicked off after the tragic death of an athlete dampened the mood leading up to the glittering event.

Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili's training-run death was recognized at the opening gala when a huge screen was emblazoned with the message that the ceremony was dedicated to him. The athlete from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia was killed earlier today when he wiped out violently on the luge track that is widely believed to be the fastest in the world.

A probe Friday night revealed that the Olympic track was not to blame for the athlete's death, which Olympic officials attributed to human error and Kumaritashvili's failure to compensate as he sped around a turn at nearly 90 mph.

After the Canadian anthem was sung at the opening ceremony, the traditional parade of athletes from participating nations proceeded -- with the contingent from Georgia, all wearing black bands around their arms, receiving a standing ovation in recognition of their loss.

Near the end of the ceremony, a moment of silence was observed and the Canadian and Olympic flags were lowered to half-staff in honor of Kumaritashvili.

"This is a very sad day," a visibly shaken Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said before the ceremony. "The IOC is in deep mourning."

Still, the show went on with every seat inside the domed 60,600-seat BC Place Stadium filled for the event that began with a snowboarder leaping in between giant Olympic rings and featured many of Canada's best-known musical stars, as well as aboriginal drummers and Celtic fiddlers.

The Canadian team marched exultantly behind flagbearer Clara Hughes, defending gold medalist in the 5,000-meter speedskating race. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was among the thousands in the stadium rising to applaud.

Just ahead in the parade were the Americans. Their flagbearer is Mark Grimmette, 39, of Muskegon, Mich., competing in his fifth Olympics as a doubles luge competitor. Kumaritashvili would have been one of his Olympic rivals.

The cultural segment of ceremony featured many of Canada's best-known musical stars — including Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang.

The ceremony climaxed with the Olympic cauldron being lit jointly by Canadian sports heroes — all-time hockey great Wayne Gretzky, skier Nancy Greene, and basketball All-Star Steve Nash.

Canadian speedskater Catriona LeMay Doan, originally supposed to light the fourth torch, was unable to join the lighting when an apparent mechanical glitch prevented the lighting to go off as planned and one of the four towers used to send a flame to the cauldron failed to emerge from the ground. It was a rare misstep in a carefully choreographed and successfully executed affair.

Later, a larger outdoor cauldron was lit by Gretzky alone.The cauldron, displayed in a plaza along the downtown waterfront, gave
Vancouver an outside, visible symbol to be viewed throughout the Games.

About 2,500 athletes from a record 82 countries are participating in the games, vying for medals in 86 events - including the newly added skicross competition. First-time Winter Olympic participants include the Cayman Islands, Columbia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru and Serbia.

The overall favorites include Germany and the United States - which finished first and second four years ago in Turin - and also Canada, a best-ever third in 2006 and now brashly proclaiming its intention to finish atop the medals table on its home turf. The parade of nations at the opening ceremony starts with Greece and ends with the host country.

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