Dropping an International Ball, Valentine's Day, and Other Lesser-Known Elements of Wizardly Brain Power
If you've been following everything from the wires, you know by now that a dark shadow was cast over the XXI Olympic Winter Games with the death of Georgian luge hopeful Nodar Kumaritashvili, who suffered fatal injuries in an accident during a training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre. He came out of the 15th turn a little too late, and was unable to compensate for turn number 16 .... causing him to lose control of the luge, and tossing him off and over the protective wall on the side of the track, striking a steel support beam at the end of the track. It was the first major fatality in a luge event since December 1975.
Regardless, the show did go on, starting with singer Nikki Yanofsky performing Canada's National Anthem in English and French, followed by greetings from members of the First Nations of the four traditional territories upon whose lands these Games were held: Squamish, Musqueam Indian Band, Lil'wat and Tsleil-Waututh (there was a brief quotation from the most famous Tsleil-Waututh in modern times, the late Academy Award-nominated actor Chief Dan George).
The Parade of Nations followed. By tradition, Greece entered the stadium first, while the host nation of Canada entered last. In between, the 80 other teams entered the arena in alphabetical order in English. The team from Georgia got a standing ovation. (As your Dragonmaster had suspected, the NBC fools overstuffed the entire evening with overly American commercials; and I have every reason to suspect as well that Canada's CTV Network had to surrender to the illusion, as it were.)
Then Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams did a song called "Bang the Drum," which Adams had co-written with his producer Jim Vallance to salute all the athletes. This led into the cultural portion, which the organizers had titled "The Landscape of a Dream," the idea being to celebrate Canada's people and geography. Hosting the segment was Oscar winner Donald Sutherland. Next was "Hymns of the North," dominated by a huge, sparkling polar-bear puppet, one of the largest such puppets ever created.
Another odd segment, "Rhythms of the Fall," explored the musical traditions of Canada's fiddlers, specifically those of its maritime provinces. The segment opened with the appearance of the devil in a floating canoe, referring to the ancient tale of "La Chasse-galerie ("The Flying Canoe")," first transcribed for the ages by Honore Beaugrand. Fiddler and performance aerialist Colin Maier portrayed the fiddling devil (I recall reading how his outfit made him resemble Batman); another famous fiddler with Canadian ties, Loreena McKennitt took over and was joined by tapdancer Brock Jellison. Grunge bad-boy fiddler Ashley MacIsaac rounded out the fiddle frenzy with his rendition of "Devil in the Kitchen."
Canada's Prairies were next, as Joni Mitchell's classic tune "Both Sides Now" was juxtaposed with the acrobatical ballet perpetrated by Thomas Saulgrain from the Canadian National Circus School; then, skiers and snowboarders dangled in midair as they descended an artificial mountain, while inline skaters did their impressions of figure skaters and speed skaters.
Then slam poet Shane Koyczan took to the stage to recite his riff on his nation, "We Are More." Doubtless Shane's fans considered this work to be rather cool.
At this point, it was now time for some deep thoughts, first from Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee, then from John Furlong, boss of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee. Then, a bit of history was made as Michaelle Jean, Canada's Governor-General, representing Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (who, of course, God willing, will get this opportunity in London in the summer of 2012), became the first woman and first Haitian-descended person to declare open an Olympic Games. Then the spotlight was taken by k.d. lang, singing Leonard Cohen's famous ballad "Hallelujah."
Donald Sutherland then joined seven of his fellow Canadian icons to carry in the Olympic Flag: Hockey legend Bobby Orr; singer-songwriter Anne Murray; racecar champion Jacques Villeneuve; Betty Fox, mother of cancer research warrior Terry Fox; women's figure skating champion Barbara Ann Scott, UNAMIR Commander Romeo Dallaire, and astronaut Julie Payette. Singing the Olympic Hymn was soprano Measha Brueggergosman. After women's ice hockey hopeful Hayley Wickenheiser took the Athletes' Oath (in English) and short track speed skating ref Michel Verrault took the Officials' Oath (in French), singing star Garou performed a new single, "A Little Higher, A Little Further."
Then, my dears, came the moment when Vancouver pretty much dropped the ball: the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron.
It started when paraplegic athlete Rick Hansen rolled in to BC Place Stadium to transfer the flame to speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan (who was also doing double duty as a member of the CTV Network Olympic broadcast team), who then passed it onto basketball all-star Steve Nash, who then did the same to skier Nancy Greene, and then finally, Nancy passed the flame to The Great One hmself, Wayne Gretzky. Then Wayne, Nancy, Steve and Catriona stepped onto four pre-determined positions on the floor, at which point the big cauldron would be raised.
But a malfunction in its hydraulic system caused only three of the four arms of the cauldron to rise. So Catriona had to watch as the other three touched the bases of their arms with their respective torches. When the cauldron was lit, The Great One was driven by police escort through the streets of downtown Vancouver, to a second outdoor cauldron adjacent to the Vancouver Convention Centre, in the city's waterfront district. Now, per IOC rules, the lighting of the Olympic Cauldrom must be witnessed by those attending the Opening Ceremony, whoich would imply that the cauldron must be lit at the actual site of the ceremony itself. But the VANOC team secretly constructed a second cauldron directly next to Canada Place and the Convention Center, and had chosen Gretzky in secret to light this more permanent cauldron.
Now, out of fairness to Mr. Furlong, he deliberately stated that Gretzky would not be the final torchbearer. If I may, Mr. Furlong: Liar, liar, pants on fire! Once the word got out that The Great One was indeed the final torchbearer, people started running after the police escort to cheer their hero on and try to catch a glimpse of him carrying his torch to the second cauldron.
And while I'm at it, let's talk about the damn cauldron itself. Put simply, amigos, you just do not experience technical difficulties at a live event with practically the whole planet watching you! And where in the Ceremony were Vancouver's five resident Bagpipe Bands: the Vancouver Police Pipes and Drums; the Triumph Street Pipers; the J.P. Fell Memorial Pipe Band; the Pipes and Drums of the Canadian Seaforth Highlanders; and the newly-formed Pipes and Drums of the British Columbia Irish Regiment?
If everyone dropped the ball and lied in public, we'd all be naive Mortals! But nooooo ---- some imbecilic technical glitch caused probably the biggest colossal blunder in modern live events. I imagine the late-night hosts will have loads of jokes tomorrow night....
But, and shall we face it for a moment, folks: brain power does tend to push one over the line at times. All I know for now is this: Mardi Gras happens Tuesday, and I am eager to learn who this year's Rex is. As I ever, you are herewith commanded to focus on WYES-TV/HD's coverage of the Rex Ball and Meeting of the Courts of Rex and Comus on the night itself. As usual, Peggy and Errol Laborde and Henri Schindler are your hosts; they will reveal new stories and anecdotes, profile the Merry Monarch and his Queen, and a whole lot of other elegant stuff.