Luge crash death overshadows Games big day
Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old Georgian luger, died after a horrifying crash in training on Friday, casting a pall over the Winter Olympics hours before the Games were to be declared open.
Kumaritashvili was thrown off the sled as it bounced over the rim of the lightning fast track at the Whistler Sliding Centre at around 90mph and slammed into a pillar.
He was taken away in an ambulance after receiving emergency treatment at the scene and the head of the Georgian Olympic delegation confirmed the death.
The crash at a Whistler track regarded as the fastest in the world destroyed a mood that had been one of celebration, as Vancouver prepared to welcome the world.
"This is a very sad day," said a visibly shaken Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee.
"The IOC is in deep mourning," he added.
Image: A postcard flanked by candles reads 'in memory of Nodar Kumaritashvili
An indoor ceremony
The BC Place arena in Vancouver, venue for the first Winter Olympics opening ceremony to be held indoors, will be packed and hundreds of millions of viewers will tune in to see the cauldron brought to life by the final, as yet unidentified, torch-bearer.
Many people in Vancouver expect Wayne Gretzky to be the man to take that honour after the former ice hockey great was spotted in the city this week.
The ceremony will mark the official opening of Games that will run until February 28 in the prosperous city on Canada's Pacific Coast.
Image: The Olympic flames burn in the stadium during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics
Record participation at the Games
About 2,500 athletes from a record 82 countries are participating in the games, vying for medals in 86 events -- including the newly added ski-cross competition.
First-time Winter Olympic participants include the Cayman Islands, Columbia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru and Serbia.
The overall favorites include Germany and the United States -- which finished first and second four years ago in Turin --also Canada, a best-ever third in 2006 and now brashly proclaiming its intention to finish atop the medals table on its home turf.
"We're still going to be nice, but we're going to be nice in winning," said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Image: Flag bearer Hughes of Canada leads her country's delegation during the opening ceremony
Minor protests on opening day
Several hundred protesters demonstrated against the Olympics in downtown Vancouver before the opening ceremony began on Friday, chanting slogans such as "Shame, Canada, Shame," and "No Olympics on stolen native land".
The protest by anti-poverty and anti-globalisation groups followed a series of rallies earlier in the day aimed at disrupting the final leg of the Olympic torch relay.
The actions were noisy but mostly free of violence under the watchful eyes of police.
Critics of the Olympics complain that the government and Games supporters broke promises to reduce social problems such as homelessness as part of the preparation for the massive sporting spectacle.
Placards were emblazoned with slogans such as "Why can't the Olympics be ethical?" and "Resist police control," the latter carried by a group wearing black masks.
Image: Protestors scuffle with police outside the BC Place before the start