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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 10:18 GMT
America welcomes Olympic Games
The Salt Lake City skyline is lit up in celebration
The Salt Lake City skyline is lit up in celebration
The 19th Winter Olympics has officially opened in Salt Lake City.

President George W Bush declared the Games open at an emotionally-charged ceremony, which was a mixture of the poignant and the patriotic.

President Bush, who was given a rapturous welcome, walked out into the arena at the start of the ceremony.

Eight US athletes followed him into the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium, with the tattered American flag that had been recovered from the rubble of New York's World Trade Center.

Athletes parade the tattered Stars and Stripes
Athletes parade the tattered Stars and Stripes
The 52,000 crowd marked an impeccable minute's silence in memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

The two-hour extravaganza concluded with the lighting of the Olympic flame.

The identity of the "individual" who would light the flame had been kept a closely guarded secret.

But the crowd warmly greeted America's gold medal winning ice hockey team from 1980 with chants of "U-S-A" as they lit the flame.

The crowd were central to proceedings throughout the ceremony.

The stadium soon burst into spontaneous applause signalling the start of the celebrations.

The all-American festivities were only punctuated by the formalities of the occasion when dignitaries addressed the crowd.

President Bush opened the Olympics "on behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation".

His words echoed those of International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge.

"Your nation is overcoming a horrific tragedy, a tragedy that has affected the whole world," Rogge said in his formal address.

"We stand united with you in the promotion of our common ideals and hope for world peace," he added.

The 11 September attacks have cast a shadow over America, and beyond New York and Washington, security conscious Salt Lake has felt the impact more than most.

But after negotiating lengthy queues to get into the stadium, those in the packed banked stands were keen to warm themselves up in freezing temepratures.

A patriotic fervour was evident throughout the athlete's parade and the main celebrations that followed.

An introduction to the usual baffling imagery and symbolism that is the realm of sporting ceremonies came before the parade.

The boy of light is given a helping hand
The boy of light is given a helping hand
A 13-year-old boy, skating in and out of hundreds of other youngsters on a central ice rink, was said to represent the theme of lighting "the fire within" that is central to the Games.

A lengthy parade of athletes followed with more than 2,500 competitors from 80 countries - by coincidence, the same number of nations that grieved a loss after 11 September.

A number of competitors showed their support of the host nation carrying small US flags as they trooped around the stadium soaking up the atmosphere.

The biggest cheer of the night was saved for the American team who brought up the back of the parade.

As they made their way to the athletes seating, the true glitz and glamour of the occasion began.

Music from native Indian Robbie Robertson set the tone for the ensuing ninety minutes of fun and fanfare.

Indian traditions mingled with contemporary culture in parades of kaleidescopic colour.

The show ended with Sting on stage before a host of American Winter Olympians past and present paraded the Olympic flame around the stadium on ice.

Their number included "Dick" Button, Peggy Fleming, Bonnie Blair and Picabo Street before the torch found its way to Mike Eruzione.

Local tradition was a prominent theme
Local tradition was a prominent theme
The sight of the captain of the 1980 Olympic ice hockey team was met with muted applause.

But when his team-mates appeared from behind the adjoining screens at the foot of the bowl for the Olympic flame, the stadium erupted.

In a finale of cascading colour, fireworks flashed over the city.

But now the real fun begins as the athletes get down to business in 16 days of competition.

From first to last, it promises to be a celebration for sport, and America, to remember.

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Colm Harrison
"A poignant start to a spectacular opening ceremony"


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