20th Winter Olympic Games raised its curtain Friday night in
Turin, Italy, with a passionate, star-studded ceremony.
Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi officially opened the
country's first Winter Olympics in 50 years, which offers 84 gold
medals over seven sports.
Stefania Belmondo, Italy's most decorated winter Olympian with
10 medals, lit the cauldron with the torch that has traveled over
11,000km for 65 days.
Over 2,600 athletes from 80 countries and regions will compete
in skating, skiing, biathlon, luge, bobsled, curling and ice
hockey, and Germany, Norway and Russia are set to battle out to be
the world's top winter sports power.
The opening ceremony, an extravaganza of "Rhythm, Passion and
Speed," greeted more than 2 billion viewers worldwide, including
27,000 at the Olympic Stadium.
The 160-minute gala and the closing ceremony are estimated to
cost 28 million euros. Throughout the Games, about 3.2 billion
television viewers will watch the competition, 5 percent over that
of the Salt Lake City, according to the International Olympic
Earlier, Greece led the parade of delegations and host Italy
North and South Korea marched together as a unified team, but
will compete as two separate teams.
It was the first time that the two countries marched together
during a Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Athletes from the two
countries have marched under one flag at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
and in Athens in 2004.
China, host to next Summer Olympics in 2008, has dispatched 78
athletes to 47 events. Gold medal hopefuls lie in short-track speed
skating, speed skating, figure skating and freestyle aerials.
Yang Yang, double Olympic gold medalist in 2002, was China's
first ever female flag bearer in the Summer and Winter
The glittering show was highlighted by Italian tenor Luciano
Pavarotti, who sang his celebrated Nessun Dorma (No One's
Sleeping) as the grand finale, making the ceremony a fantastic
memory to cherish.
Turin has spent some US$3.4 billion on the Games, 18 percent
over its original budget, including US$126 million on security.
The cozy weather might affect the Games. Organizers have to
deliver truckloads of snow to the mountains to ease the work of
snow-making machines. There were complaints about soft ice, which
has caused several athletes out of the Games. Italian ski jumpers
Stefano Chiapolino and Marco Beltrame have pulled out after picking
up injuries in training.
Apart from security and weather, doping is surely another
concern for the Winter Games.
Twelve skiers were suspended for five days after they were found
to have excessive hemoglobin levels. The International Ski
Federation said that the suspensions were not a sanction but a
Giovanni Zotta, an Italian representative on the IOC's
Anti-doping Commission, said preliminary tests had found the banned
substance Erythropoietin (EPO). But the IOC denied Zotta's
The IOC and Italy have been clashing over drug controls. Doping
is a crime in Italy but the top Olympic body regards it as a
non-penal offense. Clashes might continue deep into the Games.
(Xinhua News Agency February 11, 2006)