Flame burns bright

TURIN, Italy -- Pavarotti sang. People wept. Yoko Ono talked about John Lennon's song of peace. People cheered. Peter Gabriel sang Imagine. People swayed. Sophia Loren and Susan Sarandon helped bring in the Olympic flag. People ooohed. But mostly people were awed by the Turin 2006 Opening Ceremonies.

The challenge was to follow the Salt Lake 2002 show of shows, the most glorious git-go in the history of the Olympic Winter Games. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. But they gave it a go and they gave the world a host of memories despite several stretches where the Turin show was in definite danger of committing too many of the crimes of the all-time artsy-fartsy miss in Opening Ceremonies' history in Albertville. More than anything there were simply so many freeze-frame, print-a-poster memories for it not to be.

And Canada ended up being one of those memories as Danielle Goyette led our nation into the stadium dressed in distinctive white outfits with what you'd have to describe as a mukluk look - wearing boots and hats which best represented athlete-less Yukon and the Northwest Territories in a team dominated by Alberta and Quebec athletes.

In what was otherwise mostly a parade of parkas, the Canadians were a hit. And the Canadian athletes had a hoot.

"Awesome,'' said Goyette of the experience when I talked to her via cellphone less than a minute after she took her seat in the middle of the stage designed to look like the Turin medals - which look like a doughnut or a large washer.

'THAT WAS SPECIAL'

"To carry the flag and come in here and see everybody in the stadium wearing white, to walk in under the five Olympic rings in lights. I wouldn't have traded this for anything. And I loved the way we looked in our outfits with the hats and boots. We looked like Canada. That was special.''

Goyette had tears in her eyes before she carried the flag into the stadium last night. "I'm going to think about my parents,'' she said, tearing up remembering her late mother and father.

Jeff Buttle marched. Emanuel Sandhu didn't. Russ Howard marched. Beckie Scott didn't. Deidra Dionne marched. Jennifer Heil didn't. Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards marched. Pierre Lueders didn't. Jeremy Wotherspoon marched. Cindy Klassen didn't. Steve Omischl marched. Clara Hughes didn't.

Howard, who turns 50 during the Olympics, is almost old enough to be Hughes's father. And he was there in the front row with Goyette's hockey teammates Hayley Wickenheiser and Cassie Campbell.

"Unbelievable,'' said Howard of the experience.

"That was so cool I thought we had the best outfits. I thought we had the best time. That's close to the most incredible experience of my life,'' he added before watching curlers Pal Trulsen of Norway and Sean Becker of New Zealand carry in the flags of their nation and hockey's Arturs Irbe lead Latvia into the stadium.

ON THE FRONT ROW

Also on the front row was Deidra Dionne, the freestyle skier who broke her neck five months ago and made it back to the show where she won bronze four years ago.

"It was just such a thrill to march in with those other athletes on the front row behind our flagbearer. To march in the first one was pretty special. But this was extra special,'' said Dionne when the phone was passed to her.

The athletes didn't miss much in the first half of the show. But the show which followed their arrival had plenty. Until Salt Lake's show of shows, I'd ranked the spectacle of Sarajevo as my favourite Winter Olympic opener. That was followed by the energetic and joyous (but far too long) Calgary show.

The venue, with the event at the bottom of a ski jump in Lillehammer and those sumo freeze-frames from Nagano were wonderful, too. Only the f(r)ancy show we watched in Albertville didn't win rave reviews.

This one ranks up there with the best of the best. And ending with the power of Pavarotti under a massive chandelier wearing the silver rings of the Olympics over his heart put it away.

The slogan of these Olympic Winter Games was 'Passion Lives Here.'

Right up to the moment the show started in the old Juventus soccer stadium, there was a serious shortage of anticipation or excitement about these Games in the host city.

Maybe they'll have fired up more than the Olympic flame here last night. Certainly they sent people from around the world into the night finally feeling the Games should begin.