Ceremony worth the trip
23:15 TORINO. Not even eight hours on the bus could keep me from missing my first Olympics opening ceremony. Sore throat lingering and sleep deprived, I knew that not attending would have set my Missing Out complex into overdrive.
My friend Tony Chamberlain, sports editor for the Boston Globe, has seen a lot of Olympic events in his 35 odd years with the Globe. While he skipped out on Friday’s ceremony, his word for the introduction of the Olympic Games was stirring.
“You really should go see one,” he told me.
I had my doubts when the pre-show began with a boisterous Italian lumbering onto the stage dressed as a polar bear.
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But once the countdown began and the “Passion Lives Here” theme kicked in, I was sold. Dancers dressed in red formed a heart and began collectively pulsating. Skaters with fire ball tanks on their backs started bolting around the stage representing “the sparks of passion” and the techno music boomed along in unison on what was admittedly a really rocking sound system. Then, a tiny Italian girl who looked like a red and green speck on the white stage sang the national anthem, the Italian flag was raised, and the athletes marched out with their flags.
The countries represented amounted to more than 70, and I’m ashamed to admit I’d have trouble finding some of them on the map. One forgets that the likes of Andorra, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan and Chinese Taipei has athletes competing in the Olympics. It was certainly moving to see Indian alpine skier Neha Ahuja, who graduated from Vail Mountain School and then the University of Colorado in Boulder, proudly stride out in front of her sparse team waving her country’s flag. Cross country skier Robel Teklemariam, who went to school in Glenwood Springs for a stint, was also the flag bearer for his country, Ethiopia.
What? Ethiopia in the Winter Games? The country’s team consists of three men, outnumbering just Venezuela and Kenya, which each have two athletes competing. The United States surely had one of the largest crews in tow, as did Canada, Germany and Italia, which strode out last to a deafening ovation and a serenade of crazy electronica, transforming the stadium instantaneously into a discoteca.
While I skipped out early in a failed attempt to get a jump on my long trip back to the mountains, I missed what were surely riveting performances by Yoko Ono and Peter Gabriel.
As I became desperately lost, a very kind gentleman who didn’t speak a lick of English escorted me across the bridge over the railroad tracks between the Olympic Village and the Main Media Center. He paused to wave his hand toward the night-time cityscape, the monumental structure of the giant arched gate dominating a good portion of the panorama.
“Tor-EE-no,” he said, smiling peacefully. As I made my way to the bus stop, I watched the finale of fireworks explode and shower over the Olympic stadium with the gate in the foreground. “Si,” I thought to myself. “Torino.”
Let the Games begin.