The Italian town of Turin officially shed its gritty past Friday with the long-awaited opening ceremonies to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
These rings will reign supreme in Turin for the next two weeks
Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi officially opened the Winter Olympics, setting the ball rolling on a 17-day festival of snow and ice sports.
Competition proper gets underway on Saturday when four gold medals will be awarded in biathlon, nordic combined, women's freestyle moguls and men's speed-skating.
They will end on Feb. 26 with the men's ice hockey final and the men's 50km cross country.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told athletes from around 80 countries gathered in the 35,000-capacity Stadio Olimpico that they were "role models" and that their "conduct will inspire and motivate future generations.
A view of the Olympic stadium during the ceremony
"Our world today is in need of peace, tolerance and brotherhood," Rogge said. "The values of the Olympic Games can deliver these to us. May the Games be held in peace, in the true spirit of the Olympic Truce."
The key moment, as with every Olympics, was the conclusion of the parade of athletes into the stadium when, as Michael Payne, the former marketing director of the International Olympic Committee, said, viewers see "the fairy tale of the world brought together."
But the show both before and after the parade of athletes was filled with lights, fire, ice and more than a small taste of Italy and the world. While film stars Sophia Loren and Susan Sarandon joined bestselling author Isabel Allende in carrying the Olympic flag into the stadium, John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and singer Peter Gabriel performed "Imagine."
Icons such as operatic star Luciano Pavarotti and the ballet corps from Milan's famous Teatro alla Scala performed. The Alps, cows, inline skaters with flames shooting from their helmets, and a much-bigger-than-life ski jumper provided further highlights.
Firework lights torch
The identity of the final flame-bearer, as always, remained a secret right up to the entrance of the flame into the stadium.
Gold medal skier Alberto Tomba was widely rumored to have the honor of lighting the Olympic flame, but in the end, cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo, Italy's most decorated winter Olympian, won the race. She lit the torch by igniting a massive firework that engulfed the entired stadium and climbed up to the stadium tower.
Belmondo as she indirectly lit the torch
Turin-born former top model Carla Bruni meanwhile carried the Italian flag. Beyond Turin's auto manufacturing past, the city is still known as a fashion and design destination.
Once dominated by struggling car manufacturer Fiat, Turin has spent millions to retool itself into the world's winter sports mecca for the next 17 days.
Italian police and security personnel were everywhere Friday and throughout the week, worried about terrorists and protestors who managed to force those carrying the Olympic flame to divert from their planned route to the stadium. About 15,000 police officers have been deployed and two NATO surveillance planes will patrol the no-fly zone declared over Turin during the opening ceremony.
German elected IOC vice president
Far from the snow and ice on Friday, the International Olympic Committee elected German member Thomas Bach to be vice president, replacing the outgoing American IOC VP James Easton.
Easton had hoped to gain a place on the executive board in the reshuffle. But he failed to get elected, leaving the most influential and wealthy National Olympic Committee without an executive board seat.