VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- This was my first in-person experience with the Opening Ceremony, but not my first, having viewed them on television during previous Olympiads.
Through a camera lens and a director's chair, they've always come across as a random collection of frequently kitschy, awkward, tedious, rewarding and sentimental segments wrapped around a few moments of memorable grandeur. Without television as a filter, it's a different, more communal experience; and moments that perhaps didn't resonate or didn't even appear on NBC or CTV played well to the 60,600 spectators inside BC Place on Friday night.
Here are a few examples of what you may not have seen on TV during the Opening Ceremony ...
Tribute To Nodar Kumaritashvili
It was announced before the start that the Opening Ceremony would be dedicated to the memory of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed in a crash earlier on Friday. The announcement was met with a loud ovation from the assembling fans, but immediately I felt it wasn't enough in light of the enormity of the tragedy.
The crowd paid tribute again when the Georgia delegation, which has decided to play on despite the catastrophe, was announced in the parade of nations. A huge ovation, building as soon as its name was flashed on the stadium screens -- arguably the second-loudest behind the one for Canada during the parade, just ahead of the cheer for the U.S.
After k.d. Lang's rendition of "Halleluiah" went by without a mention of Kumaritashvili -- seemingly a perfect spot for it -- the crowd finally had a chance to pay proper respects after the Olympic flag was raised and a moment of silence was announced.
"Silent" doesn't do it justice -- it was like being in a vacuum, with only the humming sound of a helicopter outside audible. Stark, sad moment of reverence on a difficult day.
The Drum Beat
As the 60,600 fans filed into BC Place, they were met with instructions from the stage on how to utilize the fan participation kits given to every spectator: When to flash the lights, make noise or respond to "section leaders" around the stadium.
But the first moment of palpable enthusiasm from the crowd came seven minutes before the ceremony and without instruction: Fans in the upper deck started banging their octagonal drums, and the rest of the stadium soon joined in, creating a rumbling, spontaneous noise like a freight train.
The drums were used to great effect again during Nelly Furtado/Bryan Adams duet, giving their song a rumbling backbeat.
Parade of Flags
One of the night's most ambitious lighting effects came during the Parade of Nations, as fans wearing white cloaks (which came in their participation kits) acted as human movie screens for international flags projected on each section. The effect didn't work all that well because of the lighting during the segment ... but imagine the surprise when your buddy from across the stadium tells you that you were Azerbaijan for the night.
One knock on the parade: There was no announcement of the flag-bearers' names, which would have augmented the experience in a good way for the arena crowd.
(One 'thank you' to the organizers, at least from the male perspective: The ski jacket, bare legs and boots fashion ensemble for the women leading some of the nations on the route. Eye-catching from any seat in the house.)
The Cheap Seats
Patrons in the lower level were able to experience the spectacle, but not the way fans in the upper deck could. The large video presentations on the "ice" surface just didn't translate for fans without a bird's-eye view. Take the whales, for example: Fans upstairs and on television saw a wonderful combination of video footage and special effects, as puffs of steam fired from the floor to create "blowholes" as they swam by. They looked like sewer vents in Manhattan on the lower level.
Giant Things Rising From the Ice
When the large totems rose from the ice during the energetic First Nations segment, the crowd popped. When the giant space bear ascended from the floor, the audience exploded, waving around their flashlights as it opened its arms and floated above the ground. Seriously, giant space bears are no longer just for college hockey; they belong to all of us.
Of course, the less said about the Cauldron, the better.
Finally, a word about things falling from the sky.
There were rectangular sticks of confetti, firing from cannons and falling from the rafters on several occasions. There were large paper maple leafs, floating down during that lumberjack fiddling hoedown. There was snow made of bubbles, carrying with it a slight detergent odor.
All of it made for an immersive experience in the lower level, if not one heck of a cleanup job after the torch cauldron was extinguished inside BC Place.