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Winter Olympics Opens in Passion, Style
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The 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 Committee.


Earlier, Greece led the parade of delegations and host Italy entered last. 


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 Olympics.




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 health measure.


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 claim.


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)

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