Neate Sager

Putting the cauldron gaffe into perspective

Fourth-Place Medal

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The one aspect of the Opening Ceremony everyone expects go off flawlessly, well, it has to be flawless.

The question is how much Canada's failure to get it completely up, as it were, during climax on Friday tinges the next two weeks in our shared experience. It would be nice to imagine people reined in their angry cynic and skipped to laughing it off. Mistakes always happen; this one simply came at the climax of the night, with no time to come back. It does not invalidate a pretty fun night.

Of course, it's right to wonder a little at how that happened on a stage that large, with a financial undertaking that huge and brains that big behind it all. It was only exacerbated during the next few minutes while Wayne Gretzky stood in the back of white pickup truck for a Bronco Chase-evoking ride to the Vancouver waterfront to light the outdoor cauldron. It was not only bad television, but it left people with nothing to talk about except the mistake.

The question is whether, in your mind, it's a deal-breaker.

Overall, the night was warmly received. Ultimately, that is what counts after the hits and misses. (For me, the former included the snowboarder coming into BC Place, k.d. lang, the lighting effects, the massive LED bear puppet that had to be intended to taunt Stephen Colbert; Nikki Yanofsky's Bleeding Gums Murphy extendo version of O Canada was among the latter).

Please don't lose sight that a country that has so few cultural touchstones was knit together for a night.

The Opening Ceremony is very is-what-it-is. It is a kind of non-specific production that is not going to appeal to everyone, which you can either abide or see as further evidence of that sinister plastic Disneyland that Chris Hitchens is always on about.

Up until the "Ohno" moment that had nothing to do with a U.S. speed skater, the lead-up was terrific, very enjoyable. The pop performers might have been strictly easy listening, but it's hard to turn Neil Young loose on an international audience of 65,000 people.

It is daunting to present a portrait of Canada. For any U.S. readers, it's tricky to present a portrait of a country whose population is both spread out geographically and disproportionately concentrated in major cities. (Some day we'll admit most Canadians' closest contact with wilderness is driving by a Mountain Equipment Co-Op).

Faced with that, the organizers provided a little of everything. If they ran over a lot of the same old ground, they covered it very well, showing a sampler's plate of a country that can miss a lot of its own splendour.

Ultimately, there was a lot to like about opting for multiple final torchbearers — Paralympics hero Rick Hansen, speedskater Catriona LeMay Doan and skier Nancy Greene representing amateur athletes alongside two male pro-sports demigods, Gretzky and the Phoenix Suns' all-star guard Steve Nash. No doubt some people will say, "Next time, have one person and light the freakin' cauldron and you won't have any problems," but that is post-hoc.

The point of all this is to say relax a little, and hold off on tagging this as the Gaffe Games. Doing so would be like judging a hockey game on a ceremonial faceoff. It was brutal, but there is time to get this right and ensure that the hydraulics malfunction will be summed up by the six truest words in the English language: "It wasn't funny at the time."

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