The 21st Winter Olympics opened here on Friday night amid pomp and pageantry at the famous BC Place.

Canadian Governor-General Michaelle Jean, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) president John Furlong and IOC president Jacques Rogge were among the 60,000 people who attended the grand opening ceremony broadcast live around the world.

Before the ceremonies, aboriginal youth from the First Nations — a term used to describe Canada’s native people before the Europeans came here — welcomed the guests to the mega sports show.

The ceremonies opened with a video of a snowboarder on the stadium screens, followed by a real snowboarder sliding down the snow-covered stadium floor, and followed by the singing of the Canadian national anthem.

Then athletes from the participating nations marched down the stadium.

The host Canadian contingent was led by 37-year-old Clara Hughes who has won medals at Summer and Winter Olympics.

More than 2,700 athletes will vie for 86 medals at the Winter Olympics which run till the end of the month.

Vancouver won the right to host the event seven years ago by beating South Korea’s Pyongyang. It is the third time that Canada is hosting any Olympics. The country played host to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary where it failed to win even a single gold.

According to Sports Illustrated, Germany will dominate the medal tally. But Canada is expected to win at least 10 golds this time.

Most of the events of the 17-day sports extravaganza will be held in the Vancouver suburbs of Richmond and Whistler which is more than an hour’s drive from Vancouver.

The opening of the sporting mega-show was, however, marred by the death of 21-year-old competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia who succumbed to his injuries after crashing into a metal pole while training at Whistler.

He was rushed to hospital where he died. “This is a very sad day. The IOC is in deep mourning,” said teary-eyed IOC president Jacques Rogge.

“Here you have a young athlete who lost his life pursuing his passion. He had a dream to participate at the Olympic Games, he trained hard, and he had this fatal accident. I have no words to say what we feel,” Mr. Rogge added.

John Furlong, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organising Committee, said: “We are heartbroken beyond words to be sitting here. I am sorry to be in this position to be reporting this to you. It’s not something that I have prepared — ever thought I would need to be prepared for.”


Olympic luger from Georgia dies after crash February 13, 2010