The festive mood, and the opening rain of confetti, contrasted sharply with the grief that befell the games earlier in the day when luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of the republic of Georgia died in a horrific crash on the sliding track at Whistler.
"This is a very sad day," said a visibly shaken Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee. "The IOC is in deep mourning."
While protesters and rain clouds gathered outside, more than 50,000 ticketholders packed into the stadium for the evening extravaganza, the first Olympic opening or closing ceremony ever held indoors. Rain was forecast through the weekend in the city, with high temperatures near 50 degrees, prompting some to dub these the Spring Olympics.
The luger's death was expected to be observed during the ceremony — a somber addition to a show that was to feature big-name talent and an exultant roar for the Canadian team, whose not-so-impossible dream is to win the medals race.
According to program, the show was to climax with the Olympic cauldron being lit jointly by four Canadian sports heroes — all-time hockey great Wayne Gretzky, skier Nancy Greene, speedskater Katrina LeMay Doan, and basketball All-Star Steve Nash.
About 2,500 athletes from a record 82 countries are participating in the games, vying for medals in 86 events — including the newly added ski-cross competition. First-time Winter Olympic participants include the Cayman Islands, Columbia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru and Serbia.
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