by Ralph Routon
Perhaps the events earlier in the day had something to do with it, but the mood Friday night at the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony came up a little less exhilarating than expected.
Oh, there were memorable moments, as the ambitious program "reintroducing Canada to the world" (that's how it was described to the crowd in B.C. Place beforehand) combined all sorts of culture, acrobatics and mechanical genius.
But there was one major glitch at the show's climax, when four crystal pillars were supposed to rise up out of the floor to set the stage for the flame-lighting. Only three pillars functioned, as music played repeatedly and everyone waited, not knowing what was the problem.
That aside, one of the night's biggest roars came when the host Canadian team of 210 athletes entered the stadium, with a comparable outpouring when hockey icon Wayne Gretzky ended the Olympic torch relay by joining three other former Canadian athletes in lighting a special flame. Gretzky then ran through the crowd and outside into a misty rain to light the permanent cauldron for the rest of the Winter Games.
Gretzky still is in good shape, because on his trek up the stairs after several minutes on the stadium floor waiting through the equipment malfunction, he passed by the edge of the media section while still carrying the torch and showed no sign of fatigue.
But for many inside the massive domed stadium, the three-hour ceremony with its wide variety of musical and dance performances still couldn't fully overcome the numbness that struck earlier in the day.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, a first-time Olympian luger from the nation of Georgia, was killed after flying off the course on the final turn of a training run at Whistler Sliding Center. The opening ceremony was dedicated to the 21-year-old's memory, along with a specific statement to the crowd from International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and, later, a full minute of silence.
The first medals will come Saturday with two of America's most familiar male athletes trying to make an immediate splash. First, on the slopes at Whistler, Bode Miller leads the U.S. contingent in the men's downhill. Later, short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, who trained for much of his career in Colorado Springs, will make his debut here in the men's 1,500 meters.