The 19th Winter Olympic Games opened with the expected pomp and tradition, but included a somber nod to the way in which the world has changed since the Nagano Olympics.
The fire within
A nation and world desperate for healing opened the 19th Winter Olympic Games Friday night in Salt Lake City, in a sometimes somber, sometimes soaring tribute to the unifying message of the Olympics.
The colorful 2 1/2 hour ceremony featured three fireworks shows, the music of Oscar-winning composer John Williams and the delightful cries of the crowd, as US President George W. Bush declared the games open.
"Your nation is overcoming a horrific tragedy, a tragedy that has affected the whole world," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in his opening speech, which drew roars from the crowd. "We stand united with you in the promotion of our common ideals and hope for world peace."
Contrary to what some had expected the American patriotism was muted, the crowd only erupting into chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" at the end of the ceremony, when 19 members of the 1980 gold medal US hockey team lit the torch. In keeping with the message of global healing, the Olympic flag was carried into the stadium by eight people who had helped inspire the world in the last century.
Flag bearers inspired the world
Among them, ex-Polish President Lech Walesa a charismatic labor leader in communist Poland who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.
"Up to the end of the 20th century we were fighting each other, but now we are finished with this attitude," he said. "I hope that I am the last revolutionary and now we will go to a different world of the good struggle."
Walesa stood with Australian Olympian Cathy Freeman, American film director Steven Spielberg, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, American Astronaut John Glenn, Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of explorer Jacques, Japan's ski jumper Kazuyoshi Funaki and French downhill skier Jean-Claude Killy as the Olympic flag went up the pole.
Sept. 11 tribute
The specter of how the world has changed in the past few months was clear to the 52,000-strong crowd and millions of television viewers. Audience members waited two hours to pass through security to get into Rice-Eccles Stadium. More than 15,000 police officers, soldiers and secret service officers patrolled the grounds in and around the site.
Thousands, including Bush, brushed away tears as the tattered American flag that had stood at Ground Zero in New York City since Sept. 11 made its way into the stadium, accompanied by an honor guard of New York City police officers and firefighters. New York City police officer Daniel Rodriguez, who has made a name performing patriotic hymns since the attacks, sang "God Bless America."
Native Americans take center stage
Utah’s native American past was heavily emphasized in the opening ceremonies. Chiefs of Native American tribes on horseback greeted the 2,531 athletes from 77 nations. A trained Golden Eagle flew a circle around the stadium before returning to his handler. Colorfully costumed Native Americans from the state’s five nations performed dances and songs.
But the best was, of course, saved for last.
Pairs of US Olympic champions carried the torch in a final relay through the center of the stadium, making their way up to the podium, where the Olympic cauldron, atop a 117-foot ice sculpture stood ready to be lit.
Who would light the cauldron was, in keeping with tradition, kept under wraps in the run-up to the opening ceremonies.
The crowd erupted in a roar when the spotlight fell on Captain Mike Eruzione, who scored the winning goal that won the Olympic Hockey Gold Medal game against the Soviet Union in 1980.
Members of the 1980 U.S. Gold Medal Olympic hockey team light the Olympic flame at Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City Friday, Feb. 8, 2002. (AP Photo/Laura Rauch)
Eruzione was soon joined by 18 other members of the "Miracle team" and the group lit the torch together as the crowd erupted in the "U-S-A" refrain that will surely be heard often in these games.