Opening Act Will be Hard to Follow

Usually at least once in each opening ceremony I find myself saying, “Who thought this was going to be interesting/entertaining?” or, “Who doesn’t think this is the most embarrassing moment of that person/performer/official’s life?” So I can’t be blamed for looking forward to this opening ceremony with a certain amount of trepidation. I remember the hundreds of white pianos and men in white tuxes playing them in LA. I remember the giant toothpaste blob Whatisit, the ill-conceived mascot from Atlanta.

Add to history the constant nattering about potential jingoism and supposedly inappropriate attention to 9/11 and I wasn’t exactly eagerly anticipating the opening ceremonies of the winter Olympics XIX.

My first concern was how they were going to handle the World Trade Center U.S. flag. The compromise was appropriate. I didn’t think the U.S. flag bearer should be carrying it in front of  the delegation. Not solemn. Not honor. Using a symbol of tragedy as some kind of good luck charm. No, the compromise worked for me. I just wasn’t sure how the flag would be presented. When it was brought out in silence, with respect and solemnity accompanied by a simple announcement, I was moved, as I will never stop being moved, by my memories of that day. It wasn’t maudlin, it wasn’t manipulative, it was simply the right thing to do.

What followed was just the best Olympic ceremony I can remember seeing. I loved the part ice, part solid ground, assymetrical surface for the action. And the choreography used the different surfaces and levels to create uniquely flowing movement that far outstripped the interest of the many dances that have shown up in preceding events.

Even the parade of athletes presented a few surprises. Who’d expect to see Steve Young carrying a nation’s banner? The Czech’s showing solidarity with the United States by waving little U.S. flags? Or (and this is the surprise of the games) the French (yes, those French) waving little flags that were U.S. on one side and France on the other?

The cultural extravaganza that followed was dramatic, all-American, and all West.

New IOC president Jacques Rogge is a refreshing change from his predecessor. Imagine, an IOC president who seems genuinely excited and enthusiastic about the games. And SLCOC president and CEO Mitt Romney spoke so naturally and easily that it was hard to believe.

The inclusion of the five Native American nations of Utah gave a uniquely American flavor, but in a way that even Americans could find exotic. The Native American leaders greeting the athletes in their own languages was a great touch. The drum circles! (nothing gets under my skin like the keening chant of a good drum circle!)

I have to admit my evening was one long stream of “That is so stinkin’ cool!”

Is there a better choir for sheer big time dramatic event performance than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? The Olympic Hymn never sounded so good.

I found myself shouting at each set of torch bearers. Dorothy and Dick. Peggy and Scott–fellow cancer survivors. Jim and Jimmy Shea (and do you think Jack would have been one of the last if he’d been here?). Bonny and Dan. Bill Johnson and Phil Mahre. Cammy and Pic. The 1980 hockey boys. I knew it couldn’t just be Mike Eruzione.

I haven’t figured out the water in the flame. But I have figured out that no one’s ever done it better than Salt Lake City.

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