Near the end of Friday night's Opening Ceremony for the 19th Winter Olympics, in a protocol-mandated segment called "Symbol of Peace," the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the singer Sting performed a song he had popularized titled, "Fragile."
The evocative sound of the cello and one of the song's lyrics, "that nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could," were striking reminders that these Olympic Games were bringing the athletes of the world together at a time when hopes for peace seemed more fragile than ever.
From the presence of an American flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks to security that made the process of entering Rice-Eccles Stadium take an hour or more, the Opening Ceremony made it clear that the Olympic ideal to achieve understanding through a peaceful assemblage of athletes was far from being realized.
"I don't want to overstate what the Olympics can do, but at a time like this, maybe more than any time in our history, this gathering has powerful symbolism that is not lost on America or the world," said Mitt Romney, CEO of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing committee, as he and President Bush met with the 211-member U.S. Olympic team in a gymnasium on the University of Utah campus before the ceremony.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge of Belgium also acknowledged the poignancy of the moment for the United States.
"Your nation is overcoming a horrific tragedy. A tragedy that has affected the whole world," Rogge said. "We stand united with you in the promotion of our common ideals and hope for world peace."
President Bush alluded to the circumstances by changing the protocol statement used to open the Games by adding a preface. "On behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation," he began, "I declare open the Winter Olympic Games of Salt Lake City."
The appearance of the tattered "Ground Zero" flag, carried by eight U.S. Olympians and escorted by five New York policemen and four fire department members, was greeted with three minutes of solemn silence, broken only by the announcement of the national anthem.
It was followed by the parade of 77 national teams, from the incongruousthe Pacific island of Fiji, whose flagbearer, alpine skier Laurence Thoms, lives in New Zealandto the tinySan Marino and Andorrato the host country. Short-track speedskater Amy Peterson of Maplewood, Minn., a five-timeOlympian, carried the U.S. flag at the head of her delegation.
The cauldron was lit by the 1980 U.S. Olympic champion hockey team after its captain, Mike Eruzione, received the torch from Cammi Granato of Downers Grove. Granato, captain of the 1998 Olympic champion women's hockey team, and 1998 skiing gold medalist Picabo Street, had run it together up the stadium steps in the south end zone. The hockey players wore their uniform sweaters, with "USA" on the chest, instead of the warmup suits used by all the other torch-bearers
The emphasis on America's patriotic spirit in the aftermath of Sept. 11 was tempered by the global significance of the eight people who carried the Olympic flag.
Astronaut John Glenn of the United States, Noble Prize winner Desmond Tutu of South Africa, aboriginal Olympic champion Cathy Freeman of Australia, political leader Lech Walesa of Poland and 1998 Olympic ski jumping hero Kazuyoshi Funaki of Japan each represented one of the five continents of the Olympic rings. Olympic champion Jean-Claude Killy of France represented sport, explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau of France represented the environment and film director Steven Spielberg of the United States for culture.
A crowd of 55,000 also dissipated fears they would be rabidly jingoistic by giving enthusiastic greetings to all the national teams, even that of Iran, which Bush recently had labeled part of an "axis of evil."
The entertainment segments of the ceremony seemed drawn from a Sonia Henie movie as reinterpreted by Cirque du Soleil, with 780 skaters performing on the ice surface built onto the stadium floor. The show, which included skating square dancers, otherwise focused on the Salt Lake Olympic theme, "to light the fire within." The show's iconic star was a 13-year-old Utah skater, Ryne Sanborn, who portrays the "child of light."
"We want this to be more than a Hollywood minute," Romney said.
The production included a segment recognizing Utah's Native American culture. Leaders of each of the state's five tribes rode across the ice on horseback, then received gifts from and blessed Olympic athletes from five different nations. The last stage of the torch relay before lighting the cauldron featured four pairs of Olympic gold medalists from the United States and two-thirds of the three Shea generations to participate in the Olympics.
Figure skaters Dick Button and Dorothy Hamill ran the flame to the runway leading into the stadium, from where figure skaters Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming skated it toward a stage in the middle of the stadium floor. They passed it to 1984 champion skiers Phil Mahre and Bill Johnson, the latter still suffering from memory loss after he crashed last year in a quixotic effort to make the 2002 Olympic team.
Speedskaters Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen skated it to Jim Shea, a 1964 Olympian in cross-country skiing and nordic combined, and his son, Jim Jr., who is competing here in the new skeleton sledding event. The third generation of their family, 1932 gold medalist Jack Shea, was expected to be part of the festivities until he was killed at age 91 in a Jan. 22 automobile accident.
As his grandfather had done in Lake Placid, N.Y., 70 years ago, Jim Shea Jr. cited the athletes' fair play oath on behalf of all the other competitors.
After a week of air inversion that obscured the striking mountain panoramas, an early Friday wind cleared the air.
The temperature a relatively balmy 31 degrees for a midwinter night. As the ceremony began, a light snow started to fall almost on cue. When the stadium lights went down, the mountains fairly glowed in the background.
But the earlier gusts, up to 35 m.p.h., had destroyed several props that were to be used in the show, including three of five hot-air balloons from which a surprise descent by aerialists was planned. The wind snapped one television camera boom "like a toothpick," according to ceremonies producer Don Mischer.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times