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.
This informat ion repeats ...