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The Games Began Spectacularly!

TURIN, Italy (AP) -- The Italians loved it.   They danced on their chairs, screamed their support and braved winter cold to   herald the opening of the Winter Games.  Deborah Hastings.

Passion was the theme of   Friday's opening ceremony and passion was what poured from the audience, right   up to the arrival of the Olympic torch, carried by skiing hero Alberto "La   Bomba" Tomba, who ran up the stage steps and handed it off to a succession of   Italian medal winners. Ultimately it was Stefania Belmondo, a two-time gold   medal winner in cross-country skiing, who touched the flame to a wire that   ignited fireworks and lit the Olympic caldron. The cheering crowd screamed   its delight - just one of the many times it did so throughout the three-hour   show.

But it wasn't truly over   until the big man sang.   Luciano Pavarotti performed "Nessun Dorma"   from Puccini's "Turandot," an aria that the tenor has turned into a signature   piece. 

While that closing number   sent spectators home happy, it was the parade of nations that really got the   party going.   More than 2,500 athletes   arrived to the accompaniment of chest-thumping disco ranging from "YMCA" by   the Village People to "I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor.

Italy, as host country,   entered last and brought down the house. Dressed in silver fur-trimmed coats,   they marched to the pulsating, popular Italian song "Una Donna Per Amico" ("A   Woman For a Friend"). The crowd jumped to its feet, and cheered while ringing   souvenir cow bells provided by show organizers.

"Hopefully, after such a   show, Turin will no longer be seen as a drab city where you only go to sleep   early and go to work in the morning," said businessman Domenica Devietti   Goggia of Turin. "We also know how to have fun."

Second only to the audience's   reaction to Italy was the roaring welcome given to the Americans. Around the   packed stadium, fans stood and clapped as "Daddy Cool" blared through   loudspeakers.

More than 200 U.S. athletes,   wearing black and white coats and hats of blue and red, waived and blew   kisses. Giant video screens showed a smiling first lady Laura Bush.

Opening spectacle launches Games from BBC Sports

The 20th   Winter Olympics got under way with a spectacular opening ceremony in Turin on   Friday.   The show   heralds the start of 16 days of competition, four years after the last Winter   Olympics in Salt Lake City.

A capacity   crowd of 35,000 and a television audience of up to two billion worldwide   watched the ceremony. About 2,500   athletes from 84 countries paraded into the arena, while Italian cross-country   skier Stefania Belmondo, 36, lit the Olympic flame.    Belmondo, Italy's most decorated winter   Olympian, won 10 medals in her career including two golds. She crowned a   final torch relay around the stadium, started by Italian skiing great Alberto  Tomba.

Italian   president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi declared the Games open, while International   Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge urged the athletes to "inspire and   motivate the future generations".   "Our world today is in need of   peace, tolerance and brotherhood and the values of the Olympic Games can   deliver these to us."  (IOC boss Jacques Rogges).    "Athletes,   you are role models. Please compete in a spirit of fair play, mutual   understanding and respect, and above all please refuse doping," said Rogge.  

"Our world   today is in need of peace, tolerance and brotherhood and the values of the   Olympic Games can deliver these to us.    "May the   Games be held in peace and in the true spirit of the Olympic truce. Show us   how sport unites by overcoming political, religious and language barriers and   you will show us the world we all long for."   Rogge's   comments came after the International Skiing Federation suspended eight   cross-country skiers from the first five days of competition due to abnormally   high red blood cell counts in their blood.

The   extravaganza, combining choreography, music and light, began with Yuri Chechi,   one of Italy's greatest gymnasts, swinging a mighty hammer onto a bronze   anvil.     This was   followed by a host of dancers, flaming skaters and music from giant alpenhorns   in a homage to mountain life.

A moving ski   jumper made up of hundreds of volunteers preceded the unveiling of the five   Olympic rings, which served as a backdrop to the parade of athletes.    According to   Olympic tradition, Greece led the athletes into the arena, followed by Albania   - one of a number of one-man teams - making their Winter Games debut.

 Defending   curling gold medallist Rhona Martin, 39, carried the Union Jack into the   arena.

"It is a huge   honour. It is something that you only dream about when you are young," said   Martin.

Cold War foes   South and North Korea marched together in a show of unity for the first time   at a Winter Olympics.  

The strong   Austrian team were headed by skier Renate Goestchl, speed skater Chris Witty   carried the American flag, while host nation Italy entered last, led by skater   Carolina Kostner, to a tumultuous reception.

The athletes   took up seats in a hollow in the middle of the stage to enjoy the rest of the   ceremony, which included precision flag-waving and theatrical segments from   Italian history, myth and the future.

Veteran   Italian actress Sophia Loren, 71, was one of eight illustrious women who   carried in the Olympic flag.

Italian skier   Giorgio Rocca, dubbed the new Tomba, took the Olympic oath on behalf of all   the athletes.

The ceremony,   which also included a eulogy for peace by John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono, ended   with a performance by Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and a firework display.  

About 6,100   volunteers helped stage the event, which along with the closing ceremony, is   reported to have cost £28.5m.   Competition   gets underway on Saturday when four gold medals will be awarded in biathlon,   nordic combined, women's freestyle moguls and men's speed-skating.  

 In an unusual security move,   three guards in dark suits followed the Danish team as it marched - a   precaution that responded to recent violence by Muslims enraged at derogatory   cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in Danish newspapers.   Security was also tight for   the arrival of Mrs. Bush and Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony   Blair.

"Rhythm, Passion and Speed,"   promised the show's producers, and those watching - an estimated 35,000 at the   Olympic Stadium and two billion tuning in - got all of that.

The program opened with Yuri   Chechi, one of Italy's most famous gymnasts, swinging a mighty hammer onto a   giant anvil that sparked tall flames. Rollerbladers in red body suits zoomed   across the stage, two-foot flames shooting out the back of their heads.

Next came a tribute to the   seven countries abutting the majestic Alps - including Austria, Germany and   France. Dancers wearing green sheaths pranced near brightly painted fake cows   pulled on rollers. It was a homage to mountain life and livestock, and to   cheer both, the stadium audience was supplied with the cow bells.

In what executive producer   Marco Balich described as an "iconic moment," silver-clad dancers appeared   with big, white bubbles stuck to their heads. Balich, who has staged concert   shows for U2 and the Rolling Stones, said the balls signified snow, of which   there is none in Turin.

This northwest city, home to   both Fiat and Savoy mansions, has exhibited a certain ambivalence to the   Winter Games, largely because of an ever-changing pattern of traffic detours   and street closures. The weather, hovering in the high 30s and low 40s this   week, melted more than a foot and a half of recent snow and prompted officials   in the mountain venues to churn out the man-made kind.

For the first time, eight   women carried the Olympic flag: Italian actress Sophia Loren, Chilean writer   Isabel Allende, American actress Susan Sarandon, Nobel Peace-prize winner   Wangari Maathai of Kenya, and three Olympic medal winners. They were Nawal El   Moutawakel of Morocco, Manuela Di Centa of Italy, and Maria Mutola of   Mozambique. The eighth was Cambodian human rights activist Somaly Mam.

Behind the scenes, 6,100   volunteers helped stage the event, for which they had practiced an estimated   10,000 hours. Cost of both the opening and closing ceremonies: $34 million.

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(c) Copyright 2006 by Joseph Auciello