Opening Ceremony ‘incredible’ experience for skaters

Only hours after Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died during a practice at the Whistler Sliding Center, the 2010 Olympic Winter Games official opened in Vancouver, Canada, with the Opening Ceremony.

Wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen brought the flame into the BC Place stadium. Then the torch was lit inside by four Canadian sport icons: speedskater Katrina LeMay Doan, basketball star Steve Nash, skier Nancy Greene and hockey player Wayne Gretzy. After the indoor cauldron was lit, Gretzy, the most successful hockey player in history, was taken from the arena in a pick-up truck to light the official cauldron a few miles outside the arena.

“I loved being squat in the middle of my new family, the athletes of the world are my brothers and sisters,” said 2010 U.S. Championship silver medalist in pair skating Mark Ladwig, partner of Amanda Evora. “I was numb with the thrill of sharing a moment that will forever be unique to us. I will admit I cried as the speeches started and confirmed that I have crossed the threshold of becoming an Olympian. I felt chills when we stood in silence for Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili. All sports carry risk and I am thankful that I am alive to compete and I will honor his memory with my best efforts.”

The more than 60,5000 people in attendance stood as the seven-athlete Georgian delegation marched in with place armbands instead of their luge teammate. The ceremony were dedicated to Kumaritashvili, 21, who was also honored with a minute of silence.

After the Olympic flag was raised it was lowered to half-mast in Kumaritashvili’s honor. Betty Fox, mother of Canadian hero Terry Fox, the amputee whose cross-Canada marathon raised millions for cancer research, helped carry in the flag. She was joined by hockey legend Bobby Orr, singer Anne Murray, former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve, 1948 Olympic gold medal figure skater Barbara Ann Scott-King, former Canadian Forces general and now Sen. Romeo Dallaire, astronaut Julie Payette and actor Donald Sutherland.

“Wow,” said 2010 U.S. Champion Rachael Flatt. “When they raised the Olympic flag, I was able to grasp how incredible and amazing this opportunity is. Wow.”

Interspersed with the somber remembrances were performances from Canadian superstars including Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams took to the stage. Sarah McLachlan, who sings and plays the piano in the 2010 Olympic theme song “One Dream,” as well as a host of dancers, skaters and more.

“The Opening Ceremony was really fantastic,” said ice dancer Charlie White, who has won two consecutive U.S. national titles with partner Meryl Davis. “Such a great atmosphere to start the biggest competition of our lives.”

The figure skating competition starts with the pairs short program on Feb. 14.

“The Opening Ceremony was completely incredible,” said 2010 national bronze medal winning ice dancer Emily Samuelson who skates with Evan Bates. “I am so proud to be an American and honored to be here in Vancouver representing our country.”

Davis said, “The Opening Ceremonies were even more amazing than I had ever imagined. I definitely feel like part of team USA now and I know this is an experience I’ll never forget.”

• Bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz: “An athlete’s favorite moment is walking into Opening Ceremonies and getting recognition from the world. When I participated in the 2006 ceremonies I didn’t know what to expect and it came and went before I knew what happened. This time I knew how things would work. Having competed in this sport for another four years I had greater appreciation for Opening Ceremonies and their ability to bring us all together with the Olympic spirit. I was also really impressed with the lighting system and the graphics on the floor. That was pretty cool and the colors were intense.”

• Alpine skier Alice McKennis: “It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced – ever. It was really amazing to walk out in the parade and have everyone watching you and be able to represent the U.S. It was a really proud moment, not only for me, for everyone. Before we walked out I was getting butterflies, chills and that kind of thing. When we finally walked through that doorway, it was amazing – the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I walked the parade with Casey Puckett, who was my old coach for a while and that was cool to be here with him. It was special and a feeling I’ll never forget.”

• Skeleton slider John Daly: “That was the most amazing thing of my life. Walking into the ceremony was unbelievable and something I’ll never forget. When the torch was lit it was official. I spent the last few weeks saying I was an Olympian, but I didn’t feel like one until that flame was lit. I got chills. The entire world felt the Olympic spirit tonight, and we were all united together.”

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