The 2010 Winter Olympics opened Friday night at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a rousing Opening Ceremony that didn't quite match the pageantry of Beijing, but did a fine job of capturing the essence of Canada. Fourth-Place Medal lists the 10 most memorable moments of the festivities:
1. The gaffe heard 'round the world -- Vancouver organizers had planned for four Olympic cauldrons to be lit by Canada's most famous athletes, but a mechanical error prevented one of the massive torches from rising from the floor of BC Place. Former hockey star Wayne Gretzky, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and Alpine skiing legend Nancy Green were able to light their cauldrons, but speedskater Catriona Lemay Doan was left with her flame when the fourth torch failed to emerge from underneath the stadium. It was an embarrassing end to an otherwise flawless Opening Ceremony. Instead of the indelible memory of four cauldron-lighters, this ceremony will be most remembered for the cauldron that wouldn't rise.
2. Honoring Nodar Kumaritashvili -- The tributes to Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died Friday morning during a practice run at Whistler, were understated at best. In the IOC's defense, it's hard to add a last-minute homage to a ceremony that has been scripted down to the second, but organizers still could have done more than a moment of silence that lasted a few seconds and some perfunctory remarks from Rogge before his address to the gathered 60,000 and the billions watching on television. This isn't to say that the Opening Ceremony should have turned into a somber affair, but there were better ways to address the tragedy than a few hastily-gathered addendums.
3. "Peaks of endeavor" -- In the highlight of the performances at the Opening Ceremony, snowboarders and skiers descended from the roof of BC Place on wires in a stirring tribute to Western Canada and the Rocky Mountains. The performance featured a draped mountain circled by lighted speedskaters that was reminiscent of the lighted drummers from Beijing.
4. An early parade of nations -- Usually the parade of nations takes place in the latter half of the Opening Ceremony, after the numerous performance and set pieces. (This could be because of logistics; thousands of athletes take up a lot of room standing on the floor of a stadium.) But Friday night in Vancouver, the parade took place at the beginning of the ceremony. Unlike in previous Games, though, the 2,500-plus athletes were able to sit in the stands and enjoy the show.
5. Honoring native Canadians -- The opening five-minute celebration of aboriginal culture was a fitting tribute to the native people of Canada, but it felt a bit forced and more than a little hokey. When the tribes were introducing themselves, a large totem pole in the middle of the floor of BC Place raised its arms. When each of the four statues had raised their arms, it resembled a quartet of sleepwalkers. After the parade there were some higher-tech performances, but it seemed like ceremony directors borrowed much of the special effects from "Highlander."
6. The virtual floor -- A terrain of ice virtually broke apart and turned the floor of BC Place into virtual oceans in which whales and salmon swam across. The section combined two-dimension reality with third-dimension effects to make for the most technologically impressive moment of the ceremony. It may not have been the splendor of Beijing, but on a diminished budget, it was an amazing feat.
7. Warm reception for the United States delegation -- The U.S. athletes received one of the warmest welcomes while entering BC Place. Only Georgia (home country of Nodar Kumaritashvili) and Canada were greeted with bigger cheers.
8. Cold weather gear in a climate-controlled stadium -- Though each delegation (with the exception of Bermuda) looked like it was bundled up for a trip into the Canadian tundra, the temperature inside BC Place was actually a balmy 72 degrees.
9. Lindsey Vonn's no-show -- The potential star of the Winter Olympics was in Whistler during the festivities, recovering from her shin injury ahead of her ambitious five-race schedule. Though the athletes were able to sit during the performances of the Games, each had to stand for at least an hour before the march. Thus, it made little sense for Vonn to join the U.S. delegation at the risk of aggravating her injury.
10. The lip-synching singers -- Lip-synching is a given when it comes to performances in huge venues. The risk of technical difficulties, the lack of monitors and trouble with acoustics necessitate recording a back-up track. But usually when this happens, the performers who are going about the lip-synching do a decent job of hiding the fact that they're not really singing. That didn't happen Friday night in Vancouver. From "O Canada" singer Nikki Yanofsky to Nelly Furtado to Bryan Adams to a tap dancer whose tapping sounds were obviously pre-recorded, every performer at the Opening Ceremony had difficulty keeping up with the track. Nobody expects live singing anymore, but at least make a good attempt to fool us, you know? At least the slam poetry guy was on a live mic. (On second thought, maybe that wasn't the best thing.)