Saturday, February 13, 2010

Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics

The opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics was majestic and moving. It was so because Canada chose to be herself, instead of trying to emulate or outdo other opening ceremonies, particularly Beijing’s 2008 show-of-shows.

For me, the opening ceremony evoked memories of the two years I spent in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the early ‘70s. I had gone to Canada from the newly-independent nation of Bangladesh to study at Dalhousie University on a scholarship. Those were two of the happiest years of my life. So I was particularly thrilled when Sarah McLachlan, Halifax’s own, sang in her lovely lyrical voice words that summed up the Olympic spirit: “When you wake up everyday/Please don’t throw your dreams away.”

Donald Sutherland’s recitation of prose and poetry by Canada’s famous writers provided just the right touch to the story of that vast and varied land. On the stage, aboriginal Canadians (First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis) and actors enacted how the country was settled, from the Maritime Provinces all the way west to cosmopolitan Vancouver.

Delegations from 82 nations made their colorful entries into the indoor arena. The death of a Georgian luge athlete at a practice run cast a pall of gloom over the ceremony but the Olympic spirit demanded that the show go on. The Georgian delegation received a standing ovation. It was courageous and poignant at the same time.

The most touching moment came for me when eight of Canada’s legends drawn from various fields carried a huge Olympic flag. It included Sutherland, of course, but also Anne Murray. In Halifax, the first Western singer I came to admire was Nova Scotia’s Anne Murray. Her songs (Songbird, Danny’s song) were all the rage in Canada at the time and I listened to them an endless number of times. She had passed the torch to singers like Sarah McLachlan, a continuity memorably captured in the pageantry.

The most thrilling moment for me was when the camera zoomed in on the hockey legend Bobby Orr. He was the reason I became an ardent ice hockey, and Boston Bruins, fan. When I moved to Philadelphia from Halifax to pursue a doctorate degree at Temple University, Orr remained my favorite player. I was probably the only fan in Philadelphia rooting for the Bruins when the Flyers played the team in 1974 in the Stanley Cup finals. When Booby Clarke and the Flyers won the Stanley Cup, I was devastated because I knew how much Orr wanted to win.

Well, after more than three decades, here was Orr, one of the legendary eight, and suddenly I became aware of the passage of time more vividly than ever before in my life. Orr was white-haired. He had put on weight. I am sure his reflexes had slowed. What did I expect? This is what time does to each of us.

It was at this point that the Vancouver Winter Olympics became profoundly human for me. The mishap with the Olympic cauldron only made it more so. Of all the Olympic opening ceremonies – summer and winter – this was the most poignant, intimate, evocative and inspiring that I have ever seen. Thank you, O Canada, and win tons of gold!

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