Warm memories of chilly Olympic openers
Opening ceremonies? Rosie DiManno has seen a few.
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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—Most magnificent opening ceremonies moment: A ski-jumper, white-suited against the Lillehammer night, with Olympic torch held aloft, hurtling through the air, landing perfectly 70 metres below.
Handing the torch off to a visually-impaired Paralympic athlete who did a lap of the bowl, then passed it on to Crown Prince Haakon Magnus, who lit the Olympic cauldron.
Stein Gruben was actually the understudy, a last-minute replacement for three-time medallist Ole Gunnar Fidjestol, who’d been injured in a rehearsal jump the week before.
It’s entirely subjective of course, rating the splendor of spectacle at the Olympic Games. But everything about Lillehammer was picture-postcard perfect and atmospheric.
The opening ceremonies at every Olympiad, are ta-da! extravaganza and every host city strives for the unforgettable.
The archer in Barcelona who shot an arrow igniting the cauldron. (It was trompe l’oeil; the cauldron was pre-set to light itself in case he missed.)
That dude who flew into the Los Angeles Coliseum on a jet-pack.
Thousands of peace doves released in Seoul 30 years ago, except a whole bunch of them settled into the cauldron instead of flapping away and were incinerated when the flame was lit. Oops.
Muhammad Ali appearing at the top of the steps, hand trembling from Parkinson’s Disease, as he raised the torch.
Queen Elizabeth showing off her funny side — who knew? — in a videotaped sketch with James Bond (Daniel Craig) arriving at Buckingham Palace and bundling Her Majesty into a helicopter, the duo parachuting down onto the Olympic field. Not really, don’t be silly, but the Queen, genuine article, then emerging wearing the same dress to officially kick off the festivities.
Thousands of drummers moving in unison and dancers writing in calligraphy on giant scrolls in Beijing.
The giant illuminated snowflake that went haywire in Sochi, failing to ascend into place and transform into part of the Olympic rings.
A mishap in Vancouver when one of four crisscrossing pillars likewise failed to rise properly, leaving Catriona LeMay Doan to stand there awkwardly as three fellow athletes hit their flame marks.
Hey, it’s live theatre. Anything can happen.
On Friday evening (bright and early Friday morning, Toronto time), Pyeongchang will take centre stage, curtain rising on the XXIII Winter Olympics.
They’ve waited a long time for this, having twice before lost their Games bid. Anticipation is keen. What will they come up with? We know the ceremony will feature a cast of 2,000, augmented by 5G technology — whatever that is — and the overarching theme is “Peace in Motion”. A segment on peace through children’s eyes will follow “the fairytale-like adventures of five imaginary children from rural South Korea exploring the country’s culture and history,’’ according to the director. Expect some K-pop as well.
Unfortunately, the big cat was let out of the bag by a Reuters photographer who was present at one of the opening rehearsals. He captured the cauldron-lighting episode and that picture was leaked around the world. Korean officials and the International Olympics Committee were furious. The long lensman had his credentials revoked and Reuters — both photographers and reporters — are banned from covering the ceremonies.
There might be some empty seats as well at the unheated $58 million, 35,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, built expressly (and temporarily) for the opening and closing ceremonies — no other events are being staged there. Apparently a number of ticket-holders returned their ducats, no longer wishing to expose themselves to what were expected to be frigid temperatures, plunging to minus-20 at night. There have been reports of several stadium workers and rehearsal fans being treated for hypothermia. Organizers were to distribute hats, blankets and seat warmers to those in attendance Friday — including many world dignitaries — to combat the cold.
Except Pyeongchang has been enjoying a warmth-wave over the past weeks, at least down in the coastal cluster region, nearly as balmy as shirt-sleeves-Sochi four years ago. Up in the mountains, however, it’s freezing, with brutally cold conditions warping skis, forcing some competitors to throw them away after training runs. Hardened, sharp snow crystals are apparently the culprit.
Weather has played havoc with recent Olympics, including the Vancouver Games where snow turned to slush on Cyprus Mountain, grass and mud everywhere. American Hannah Kearney managed to win a moguls gold despite her ski being punctured by a rock that had cut through the thin blanket of melting white stuff on the hill. Ski jumpers were landing in puddles.
The coldest Winter Olympics on record was Lillehammer in 1994. Pyeongchang, with icy winds both blowing in off the Sea of Japan and barreling down from Siberia and the Manchurian Plain, then gaining ferocity across the jagged granite peaks of North Korea, was expected to be colder. At a mid-week press conference, the deputy-director of the Korean Meteorological Administration assured that temperature on Friday even should be no worse than minus-2 to minus-5 Celsius. “According to our forecast the temperatures will not be problematic to have the opening ceremonies,” Choi Heung-Jin told reporters.
Now if only they could figure out the source of that whole Novovirus thing. The “winter vomiting bug” had, as of Thursday, officially climbed to 128 cases in the region requiring quarantine, including security staff.
Non-hurling, fingers crossed, will be the 2,781 athletes — 225 of them from Canada — who are competing at these Games, from 92 countries. They are the soul of the affair but the Parade of Nations has been knocked down to about two hours, to prevent participants from turning into popsicles. Six countries are making their Winter Games debut: Nigeria, Eritrea, Ecuador, Kosovo, Malaysia and Singapore.
A record 102 medals will be up for grabs over the next fortnight in 15 disciplines across seven sports. Big breath here: alpineskiingbiathlonbobsleighcurlingcrosscountryskiingfigureskatingfreestyleskiingice
Games On as Pyeongchang says welcome — eoseo oseyo — to the world.