February 14th, 2010
12:15 AM ET

Vancouver's opening ceremony flawed, but perfect

Okay, they blew the money shot but, on reflection, the botched lighting of the Olympic flame actually added to Vancouver’s opening ceremony.

The Olympic flame is lit at the conclusion of the opening ceremony for the Winter Games in Vancouver .
The Olympic flame is lit at the conclusion of the opening ceremony for the Winter Games in Vancouver .

It was hard for organizers to get the tone right following the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. No matter how tragic, it would have been wrong if the commemorations to him had featured too prominently.

The young Georgian died doing a dangerous sport, but one that he had trained for and knew the risks of. Very different, for example, to the terrorist attack on Togo’s football team at the recent Africa Cup of Nations.

There was a fitting tribute from Kumaritashvili’s team-mates, who wore black armbands and scarves to go with the grim expression on their faces. They were given a standing ovation in BC Place and there was even a smattering of applause where I was watching – a giant marquee, mostly filled with Canadians waiting to cheer their nation’s competitors.

The fans had heard about the accident and, despite being well lubricated with alcohol, a hush descended as they watched the minute’s silence at Friday's opening ceremony.

Kumaritashvili was also mentioned in the official speeches, but the rest of the evening was filled with the usual pre-Olympic theatrics.

Having to follow Beijing’s cinematic-style epic opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympics was always going to be a tough challenge for Vancouver’s organizers, but in my opinion they rose to it.

I’ll admit I can be a bit sentimental at times, but when VANOC boss John Furlong said, "We invite people everywhere to share and experience, even if just for a few moments, what it feels like to be a proud Canadian," – I did.

And, as a Brit working for an American company, I have to confess it tickled me that the second biggest cheer of the night came when poet Shane Koyczan declared “Yes, we say zed not zee."

Then, as the patriotic fervour was at its height, one of the pillars supporting the Olympic cauldron failed to rise. How embarrassing. The final four torch-bearers had ear pieces and knew what was going on, but they still didn’t look comfortable.

But you know what? I think it was great. Unlike China a year and a half ago, Canada shouldn’t be trying to serve up another robotic, clinical Games. This is a diverse country, vast, beautiful and imperfect – and that’s cause for celebration.

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Filed under:  2010 Winter Games
soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. marlene gerson

    Thanks for that Alex! As a Canadian, I'm a proud one and even more more proud that we reflected our diversity and uniqueness for the world-and for American media.

    February 14, 2010 at 2:38 am | Reply
  2. Ray

    Actually, I wasn't listening to the tv station's commentary during the ceremonies, but I didn't realize immediately something went wrong. It looked ok with 3 pillars - especially from the side - of course, in hindsight, I wondered why there were 4 people there. But nevermind that...it did look ok. Considering gas is flowing through those pillars, I think we should be glad that the mishap was just mechanical!

    Well said above - I'm glad they didn't devote too much of the games to Kumaritashvili's tragic accident; but to simply brush it aside would have been the worse possible scenario. I never was a big fan of luge, but I've always thought that it must be one of the most dangerous sports in both Olympics...going that fast and on ice can't be safe. I hope the luge governing body takes a serious look at safety; though it is the Vancouver games, I doubt the track was built without approval from them.

    February 14, 2010 at 3:34 am | Reply
  3. Observer

    This a great observation. It was sad with both the tragedy, and then missing torch pillar – but I'm glad people can see past things like hype and focus on what you wrote – not a robotic clinical Opening but a beautiful, vast and diverse country welcoming the world to play the games.

    February 14, 2010 at 4:16 am | Reply
  4. ariel

    only the united states media would jump on this technicality the opening ceremonies and CONTINUE to harp on the failures newscast after newscast after newscast...

    and now because of that?

    February 14, 2010 at 5:34 am | Reply
  5. Jerry

    I have never heard Canada described any better : "This is a diverse country, vast, beautiful and imperfect – and that’s cause for celebration."

    Kudos to you!!
    So Alex in all sincere affection– Take off! Eh! That's what I am talking aboot!

    February 14, 2010 at 6:16 am | Reply
  6. stevie wonders

    Great write-up. Too bad your compatriots in the UK have such a negative attitude toward the Vancouver Games. It's as if they have a chip on their shoulders.

    February 14, 2010 at 6:49 am | Reply
  7. Jill

    Beautiful article. Thank you.

    February 14, 2010 at 8:05 am | Reply
  8. cynthia & steve

    Excellent report. Couldn't agree with you more.

    February 14, 2010 at 8:09 am | Reply
  9. Sarah

    Excellently put!

    February 14, 2010 at 8:19 am | Reply
  10. La Vida

    Beijing was robotic and clinical? Really? Because Asians just seem so strange and soulless to Westerners, right? I would think if you understood some of the songs (in Mandarin...yup, not English) at the Beijing ceremonies, you might've realized it was a little less clinical than going to the dentist.

    Anyway, agree the show last night was 'flawed but perfect'. Recognition of the First Nations people was admirable, if a bit awkward. Loved the Joni Mitchell and k.d. lang performances, even if their meanings were a little out of place. And some of the technical wizardry was cleverly conceived and executed. Great show.

    February 14, 2010 at 8:40 am | Reply
  11. Eugene

    Sorry, but these opening ceremonies were painful. The projection sequences were beautiful, but the endless Native American stomping, the horrid "poetry", and the randomness were painful to endure.

    February 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  12. Rhonda

    Thank you as a proud Canadian for all the compliments and for recognizing that not being perfect is just so Canadian.

    I was "shocked" to awake this morning, and following my normal routine checked out CNN for the latest Olympic news. What did I find on CNN's home page. NOTHING, NADA NYET ZIP. It is as if the Games are not happening.

    When China hosted the games 2 years ago it was all over the home page.

    While I appreciate (there I go being Canadian) that there are serious and important issues happening around the world.. but hey come on guys... if it was being hosted in the States.. it would be all over the home. page.

    On a whim I checked out the International page and found this article..

    This is a world event.. your claim to fame is... the" best news team in the world" . huh? When the Olympic Games become NOT newsworthy, treated like a second class citizen.

    Need I remind the powers that be at CNN that there are Americans competing as well.

    So let's get the news where it belongs.. on the front page.. Consider it an opportunity to teach your citizens about their neighbour to the north.

    February 14, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  13. From Montreal

    Good article! I also think the opening ceremony was perfect

    February 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  14. Richard Pelech

    The Canadian opening was incredible and it certainly can stand on
    its own merits. The ONLY glitch I see now is the constant harping by the news media that "the [Canadian] opening was flawed". Flawed by what? From my perspective, the opening ceremony was moving, insightful, and right on.

    February 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  15. DB

    The missing arm on the stadium Olympic Cauldron, when it failed to rise, was like God's tribute to the missing Olympian.

    February 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  16. noam

    robotic, clinical Games? sour grapes...?

    February 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  17. Dug

    I totally agree with this article. The whole ceremony made me feel even more proud to be Canadian. Now all we have to do is win some gold metals!

    February 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  18. LydiaK

    Agreed! I loved the opening ceremonies, and I'm not usually an opening ceremony kind of gal. I think Canada has not only risen to the occasion, but handled a variety of challenging and delicate issues with an extraordinary amount of class and grace. But why should I be surprised? I am very fond of our neighbors to the north and expected no less. Bravo Canada!

    February 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  19. Bing Lim

    IF your opinion is that China served up a robotic and clinical Summer Games, including the opening ceremony, then why so much angst over the tough challenge facing the Vancouver organizers to have something comparable?
    ITs Ok to be imperfect, but its not OK to make little of your imperfection by belittling someone else's perfection.
    As a CNN Sports anchor, you have started off the Canadian Winter Olympics with an acceptance of less than perfect standard.

    Another Proud Canadian

    February 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  20. Patti

    Amen. It's our imperfections that make us human, and what are the Olympics if not a celebration of our shared humanity?

    February 14, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  21. Andrew Forsyth

    I could not agree with you more. I was overjoyed with the celebration and the spectacle and while feeling like I was temporarily placed in a Seinfeld episode for the discomfort that the torch failure caused me; I felt the same. While this opening didn't go like clockwork it reflected the Canadian culture so well the final pilar didn't matter.

    I was however a bit confused with the devil fiddling in a canoe... I think I must of missed that legend in history class.

    February 14, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  22. Alex

    Nicely put. And actually in some respects the fact one of the cauldrons didn't come up could almost in retrospect be seen as a "missing man formation" paying tribute to the fallen athlete. The only thing that I didn't care for was the long and drawn out performance of O Canada which went on forever (honestly I could have gone to the corner store and back in the time it took to sing it). And a few moments had me doing a facepalm. But there were letter-perfect moments, too, such as KD Lang's Hallelujah, Rick Hanson rolling the torch into the arena, and they even got Terry Fox's mom to help carry the flag.

    February 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  23. Jonathan

    as one Canadian journalist put it "the eyes on the world was on us. And we put them to sleep". As a Canadian, I was extremely disappointed with the opening ceremonies, beginning with the dignitaries looking confused at the start, to a pop rendition of the national anthem. Also, it was great that the four native american nations welcomed the world, but what about everything else Canada represents? Rather than just aboriginal groups, how about having people from all groups? Chinese, Korean, Italian, Indian, etc? We are the world's most multicultural nation and we embrace this cultural mosaic, but it was barely mentioned during the ceremony. And don't get me started about the Olympic cauldron. It was just glad that it still looked good even though one pillar was missing.

    February 14, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  24. Julius Chan

    Beijing's Olympics wasn't clinical, it was perfect. Something Vancouver can never be.

    February 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  25. m.e. robinson

    thank you, alex thomas. from the bottom of my imperfect canadian heart, thank you.

    February 14, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  26. Noakz

    It was a beautiful ceremony...

    February 14, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  27. karen

    What was the song (halelujah?) sung by a male artist near the end of the opening ceremony

    February 14, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  28. karen

    What was the song (halelujah?) sung by the male artist in the white suit near the end of the opening ceremony? Thank you

    February 14, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  29. Merete Hammelow-Berg

    The opening cermony in Vancouver was the best ever. A beautiful opening filled with fantastic show, dance and music. The Canadians respect the natives in their country, and they are proud of them. I almost cried when one tribe after another entered the scene dancing and singing. They don't live in poverty like their american brothers and sisters do in South Dakota. The US goverment has a lot to learn from their neigbours. It's a shame that the US goverment isn't doing anything to help this beautiful people in their own country.

    February 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  30. RAK

    Nice to hear Canada appreciated for its diversity and sensitivity. I thought Shane Koyczan did a great job too. Also enjoyed the prairie and west coast pieces. Altogether a solid job. Now let's get some medals!! Go CANADA Go!!!

    February 15, 2010 at 12:05 am | Reply
  31. Keith

    Good Luck and God bless you all.

    February 15, 2010 at 2:18 am | Reply
  32. Glenn

    Yes! Alex you got it! You understood what the opening ceremony was all about. It was all about our history, our culture, our beliefs and our values. It was Canada! Not over the top......not flashy......truly Canadian. Its was who we are. Eh? Thank you for your comments.

    February 15, 2010 at 3:54 am | Reply
  33. Tom

    Oh, it's so easy to be perfect. Make mistakes and then you are perfect.

    And you eulogized the Vancouver's event by debasing
    Beijing's.(robotic Games). First, the ceremony in Vancouver should be great (if it is great) per se. Second, I think Beijing did a great job. The atmosphere was vibrant and performances dazzling.

    February 15, 2010 at 4:51 am | Reply
  34. Dominic Levy

    Thank you for an honest and accurate portrayal of the opening ceremonies. You captured what many might miss...sometimes the best is not perfect.

    A proud (Jamaican born) Canadian

    February 15, 2010 at 8:08 am | Reply
  35. Judy Campbell

    Thank you for your article....it's in complete contrast to the reporting being done by Rick Reilly, who has offtended many of us with his rude, mean-spirited writing. It's hard to understand why he was sent to cover the games or is there an edginess in American sports writing that I don't understand? What a horrible representative of the U.S.A. we have with us in Vancouver!

    February 15, 2010 at 8:35 am | Reply
  36. jj

    To put it in words that are not offending I found the opening ceremonies weak. Weak because it was over drawn out and extremely slow, the only thing I thought was acceptable were the orca's swimming and it was not perfect execution because the spouts of air were out of sync with the bodies as they passed. Making it seem like the air was coming from the dorsal fin not from the head, more effort and attention to detail (one of many mistakes) one canadian CTV news broadcaster called the whales dolphins???
    Gretzky being driven to the other cauldron to light??? Run thats what your suppose to do and what the tradition calls for. By the way how many of these match stick cauldrons do we need? Uninspiring design to be honest. The cauldron set against Vancouver's snowless mountain backdrop, wow speechless as this city revealed it was not capable nor the right choice to handle this event. Whistler has no snow, the city is the same ordinary atmosphere. It really feels like nothing going on accept for all the sirens and helicopters and rain.

    February 15, 2010 at 9:57 am | Reply
  37. jay

    i thought the ceremony was fantastic, not perfect, but beautiful and moving. and come to that, i thought the chinese one in beijing was amazing too. two very different styles to suit two very different nations, as for those who bitch at the journalist for thinking the chinese ceremony was robotic (which, let's face it, it was, although that is what made it so fascinating to watch!), sit back, enjoy the show, cheer your athletes on, and get a life. i am neither from canada, nor the usa, but i will enjoy each and every performance, regardless of the athletes' nationalities.

    February 15, 2010 at 11:09 am | Reply
  38. Alex

    Beijing's opening ceremony should never be compared to the mediocre Vancouver opening ceremony. Beijing was spectacular. Robotic is word used by those who can only wish to surpass a spectacular opening ceremony, but realized they couldn't. Although I can understand it's a proud moment for Canada, it was however a forgetable opening with unforgivable
    mishaps. Please don't drag Beijing's success to Vancouver's failure.

    February 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  39. John Grant

    To Julius Chan...the Beijing Opening Ceremony was indeed spectacular. Bur the games were NOT perfect. Friends of mine who attended told stories of not being able to celebrate into the night because of the Beijing police and fear of "demonstrations". Vancouver may not be perfect but at least it's authentic.

    February 15, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  40. slm

    I enjoyed Vancouver's opening ceremony as well as the Beijing's opening ceremony. Entirely different because of two entirely different cultures. Each one totally unique and totally proud of who they are. Why must we always be comparing ourselves to one another and our countries to one another? I'm sure that Canada wasn't attempting to top China, but was attempting to tell the story of Canada. Every country has its own history; it's own story; it's own beauty. I value the beauty of the Chinese opening and the natural beauty of the Vancover opening. I guess, however, appreciation and beauty are in the eyes of the beholder.

    February 15, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  41. SS

    "What was the song (halelujah?) sung by the male artist in the white suit near the end of the opening ceremony?"

    Hallelujah is one of the best songs of the best Canadian songwriter/poet, Leonard Cohen.

    Sung by kd lang, one of the best singers in Canada, if not the best.

    February 15, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  42. Thomas

    Everyone I have spoken to here in BC just loved the opening ceremonies. I would not compare them to the spectacular Beijing opening ceremonies, which were clearly in a league of their own; but the ones in Vancouver have spoken with eloquence to us. And now we have Alexandre Bilodeau's gold medal to celebrate. A sincere thank you to all Americans who wish your neighbours well in these games.

    February 15, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  43. eLEE

    The inevitable comparisons of the Beijing blockbuster and the Vancouver Opening Ceremony will be made however misplaced that may be. While there was no lipsynching, the Vancouver event also featured a child prodigy with impressive pipes. A jab a Beijing perhaps? With the task of having available one tenth of the resources (human and economic) to work with that Beijing had, David Atkins pulled off a spectacle. Maybe not spectacular, but well done and not designed to be spectacular in the blockbuster sense. I felt there were a few 'dead stretches' of singular performers on their own for too long and I sympathize with attendees who paid over thousand dollars a ticket to see but a dot on the field a hundred metres away, but the technical visual wizardry came off quite well. Watching at home on TV enabled us to see facial expressions and physical gestures. To base one's opinions on the success or failure of the Ceremonies on one technical problem, as important as it may have been, although not noticed by many present at the event, is also misplaced. The message of the Games through the imagery, music, performers, sombre tribute and incredible vocal performances (that was spectacular!) is equally comparable to any past Opening Ceremonies. Here's to looking forward to 2 more weeks of spirited competition, lack of snow and all.

    February 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  44. lily li

    i fully agree : this is a diverse country, vast, beautiful and imperfect – and that's cause for celebration. But i just dont understand if you are in favor of diversity, why you cannot be inclusive of china and asian culture??? They have their beauty, their tradition, their culture, which is not robotic and clinical.

    February 15, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  45. aRt

    I think that comment about China's opening ceremony was close to ignorant.

    You can't really compare Canada's ceremony against China's one. Canada is a lay back country. China is industrious. Canada has what, like 300 years of history at best? China has 5000 years of unbroken successions of culture, no other country has that (Egypt, Greece, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures has all been invaded, mingled and rebuilt). You try jamming anything with as long a culture in a ceremony it is build to look manufactured. It is like condensing Lord of the Rings into 1 chapter.

    Canada's ceremony probably was comparable to Aussie 2000 Olympics ceremony – nice but not overly extravagant, which fits the type of layback country that it is.

    February 15, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  46. Big Joe

    Musical choices were tedious at best. Not sure what is sadder, the "poet" or the number of my countrymen that actually think he has anything to say. As for Canada looking after its native populations, don't believe everything you see in a multi-million dollar publicity event.

    February 16, 2010 at 12:57 am | Reply
  47. TonyK

    Boring! Hardly anyone watches the olympics anymore.

    February 16, 2010 at 4:53 am | Reply
  48. erellison

    You say Zed instead of Zee????
    OOOOOOoooohhhh!!! You rebels up there!

    It's funny that every single English speaking country says Zed.

    Except the USA. We're weird that way. Huh?

    Canada, we love you. We thank God you're our neighbor(we say neighbor..oooo)And we wish you the best in everything. But never accept mediocrity or blandness because it's "nicer". Do what YOU want and don't listen to critics.

    GO CANADA!!!!!!!

    February 16, 2010 at 5:44 am | Reply
  49. CanadianJoe

    As opening ceremonies go and putting emotions aside, Beijing was the best, Sydney second. This ceremony was only so and so. The Turin one, I can't even remember what it was like.

    February 16, 2010 at 7:20 am | Reply
  50. Mark Stein

    The only people surprised by how wonderful the opening ceremonies were....were Canadians.

    February 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  51. ky

    Sad to see a country given the opportunity to shine but fail....some you cannot control (weather) but some you can. The venue should never be indoors ...lighting 2 Cauldrons??? Technical glitches...not good. No I'm not an American just an Aussie living in the States ... at the end of the day you need to spend lots of money to strive for perfection .... and GOLD. Australia recognised that and I don't think Canada does ... and it showed in the opening ceremony and your lack of GOLD medals at the Olympics (in general and I hope it will be different for your games but I doubt it)...I like NICE losers but a NICE winner is even better. So Canada what do you want??? To be known as NICE losers?

    February 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Reply
    • John Brown

      Well Aussie living in America, congrats on your silver medal in mens moguls. Begg Smith is right at home in Australia.

      February 16, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Reply
  52. marat

    As with so many great movies, sometimes we want to be manipulated, even when we know what may happen. The opening ceremonies were Canada's moment to try, however imperfectly, to define this great nation and people. I found it to be one of the most emotionally moving and INCLUSIVE ceremonies I can ever remember. But then, I live here and it resonated more truthfully for me than perhaps those from other cultures. Executed with class and with an energy that was both youthful and contemporary, I found myself with inexplicable tears along the way. Thank you Canada for capturing the spirit and tapestry of this huge, fabulous nation that I love so deeply.

    February 16, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  53. Caldron

    KY ... you might want to check Australian and Canadian the medal standings. But don't forget to deduct one of your silver medals, because that was won by the Canadian that you rented for Games.

    February 17, 2010 at 3:08 am | Reply
  54. Laura

    These games are an embarrassment to Canada and Vancouver. Gosh, the security almost let a crazy guy give Biden a kiss on the lips! One disaster after another – these should be the 'Bad Luck Olympics'.

    February 18, 2010 at 12:36 am | Reply
  55. Canucklehead

    As noted already Canada is happy to admit to being an imperfect nation but still the best place to live in the world. The ceremonies reflected that. I believe they were made more somber with song selection deliberately to honor the death of the young Georgian luger But also to honor the games. I thought it was a great balance. It is insane to compare the Opening Ceremonies of Bejing with Vancouver. Bejing was driven to impress the outside world with ferocious propaganda and so spared no expense as per their regime.
    Vancouver Opening Ceremonies was a reasonable balance and a representative balance of a country that likes to be understated especially in a terrible economy. At the end of the games, the price tag for those Opening Ceremonies will be born by the taxpayers of a democratic country not soaked up by a censorous duplicitous government. like China's.
    Proud to be Canadian and shame on the naysayers in UK and US media.
    Thank you so much for your article!!

    February 19, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  56. olympics

    wonderful and the torch is giant but glorius beautiful i wish i was there – loooooove it so much it is very beautiful

    February 22, 2010 at 3:53 am | Reply
  57. Heather Hoffman

    After the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, I'm sure many athletes who had trained with him and practiced with him as well felt a mourning gloom around their lives. Seeing someone they knew be killed at a sport they have practiced there entire lives does not leave the mind quickly. I'm sure it was hard on every person there to take what happened that day, put a smile on their face and walk out into the opening ceremonies happy. As for the actual opening ceremonies, not every country has to out do the one before. True, you want your country to stand out and make a memory, but I like the fact that you stated Canada is beautiful yet imperfect as is every country in this world.

    February 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  58. Elston Noren

    It may be Canada's game?????well it is Canada's game....nice gold team Canada hockey.....Best hockey players and best country in the world!!!!!!!!!!!....thankyou Vancouver for the best job ever...PROUD TO BE CANADIAN eh

    February 28, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Reply
  59. Ted Flanders

    Am desperately looking for the Alluia song that was sung in the later part of the opening cerimonies. Have gone on to many sites and don't seem to be able to find it. If anyone can help you'd be a hero!

    Ted from Eureka, California

    March 1, 2010 at 3:28 am | Reply
  60. Steve

    Song is Hallelujah by leonard Cohen

    Not a big Oympics fan but hard not to feel the pride.

    March 1, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Reply

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