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Sadness and celebration mark start of Vancouver Winter Games

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VANCOUVER – With Glowing Hearts - and heavy hearts - the Vancouver Winter Games officially opened Friday night in a wintery opening ceremonies that featured a who’s who of Canadian musical icons.

Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams, kd Lang, Nelly Furtado and Morden’s Loreena McKennitt were among the roster of star-studded voices that rang out in a sellout crowd at B.C. Place all dressed in white ponchos provided for the occasion. A throng of more than 60,000 witnessed a colourful tribute to Canadiana – from Inuit throat singers, to 16-year-old singing sensation Nikki Yanofsky, to the Group of Seven, to the written words of W.O. Mitchell.

Winnipeg speedskater Clara Hughes marched in Canada’s contingent of 200-plus – amidst the thunderous roar of the home crowd, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen.Michaëlle Jean  —  which for the first time in Olympic history is aiming to finish atop the medal standings in Vancouver.

The host team includes 14 Manitobans, including speedskaters Hughes, Cindy Klassen, the most decorated Olympian in the nation’s history, Shannon Rempel, Brittany Schussler, Kyle Parrott and Mike Ireland, along with hockey players Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Jennifer Botterill, curlers John Morris and Carolyn Darbyshire, ski-cross Danielle Poleschuk, skeleton racer Jon Montgomery and biathlete Megan Imrie.

Ending much nation-wide speculation, the torch was finally lit simultaneously by Canada’s Great One, Wayne Gretzky, wheelchair marathoner Rick Hanson, Olympic speedskater Catriona Le May Doan, NBA superstar Steve Nash, and Olympic champion Nancy Greene (Canada’s female athlete of the 20th century).

The ceremonies began with a bang, a snowboarder flying through the Olympic rings from the upper deck and making a perfect landing on an airbag slide made to resemble a ski slope.

Royal Canadian Mounties carried out the Maple Leaf flag over a stage designed to look like a field of fallen snow. Yanofsky, singing from a stage propped up by giant synthetic icicles, belted out O Canada.

First Nations representing the Northwest, the East, the Prairies and the Inuit then took the stage surrounded by towering "Welcome Poles" to perform a routine of tribal chanting and drumming.

Moments later, the Games athletes began to enter the stadium, beginning with Greece, as is Olympic tradition.

A sombre procession of Georgian athletes received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd, acknowledging the death earlier in the day of 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed in an horrific training run accident in Whistler. Kumaritashvili’s death cast a pall over an otherwise vibrant opening ceremony.

"I know a lot of lugers," offered U.S. bobsledder Steven Holcomb. "I didn’t know him (Kumaritashvili) personally, but we’re all brothers, all sisters in this sport, in the sliding sports, so we lost a family member today."

Some familiar faces carried the flags for foreign nations, including Peter Forsberg (Sweden) and Jaromir Jagr (the Czech Republic).

But it was Hughes and Co. who brought the white-coated house down, as the crowd cheered waving miniature Maple Leaf flags and confetti fell like snowflakes from the domed ceiling.

The dazzling visual display also featured imagery of Northern Lights and a sparkling 60-foot-high polar bear, Orca whales and totem poles that stretched to the stadium roof, and members of the Alberta Ballet floating into the air – and grunge fiddler floating down in a canoe under a full moon.

Just as captivating were the acrobatics of a young boy flying over wheat fields with Joni Mitchell singing, "Both Sides Now."

Vancouver Organizing Committee executive director John Furlong called the ceremony an opportunity for the three billion-plus television viewers watching the ceremony to experience what it’s like to be "a proud Canadian." Furlong also encouraged the assembled athletes to compete with the spirit of Kumaritashvili in their hearts.

"Canada’s Games begins, with glowing hearts, and we wish you the time of your lives," Furlong concluded.


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