Saturday, February 7, 1998
The Opening Ceremonies were, well, wow!
We didn't upstage Japan. And we were no Mongolia. But we nosed out Finland and Venezuela and would have won bronze if they gave medals for the parade of athletes.
Led by four-time Olympians Susan Auch and Chris Lori behind controversial flag-bearer Jean-Luc Brassard, Canada marched into these Games, not like the purple people we were in Albertville or any other way-out costume, but we showed up exactly like the world expects to see us and we expect to see ourselves.
In red and white. With a maple leaf.
O.K. The hats were a little goofy. But picky, picky, picky.
For the first time Canada let the athletes decide what they wanted to wear at an Olympics.
"Red and white was what they wanted,'' said chef de mission Brian Wakelin. "Twelve athletes signed off on the clothes.''
The Japanese marched in wearing white but in a line of five with each row wearing a different color scarf to match the colors of the Olympic rings. But Mongolia's shingled fur coats and fur hats were a refreshing change to the endless parade of parkas.
While the parade of athletes is always the highlight of an Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Nagano gave the world many memories from a show which had to establish a new Olympic record for duration. Unlike Calgary's would-have-been-wonderful-if-it-had-an-editor show in '88, the entire show took two hours.
The Japanese goal was to give the world an opening ceremonies with three key ingredients. Simple. Dignified. Spiritual.
They succeeded and then some.
There were no pick-up trucks out there like we watched in Atlanta.
Held before 50,000 spectators in an expanded Minami baseball stadium, the ceremonies opened with the ringing of the Zenkoji Temple bell, a symbol of Nagano with a sound that is said to purify the soul.
That was followed by the erection of eight large pillars known as Onbashira, to bless the time and space of the Nagano Games and create a symbol befitting the Olympic ideals of peace and solidarity.
With the threat of another Gulf War erupting during the time of these Games and with the U.S. adding extra security for its own athletes here, maybe they should have somebody banging on that bell and erecting pillars everywere for the duration of these Olympics.
This process was followed by the XXXXXL attraction of the XVIII Winter Olympics.
STOMPING THE GROUND
The sumo wrestlers.
Another Olympic record. Most skin ever shown at an Olympic Winter Games.
All these guys were basically bare-assed.
And while they really didn't do anything, it was just something to lay eyes on these guys.
Then on waddled the star of the show, the famed Akebono, the first foreign-born sumo wrestler to become a yokozuna or grand champion.
The 516-pounder born Chad Rowan in Hawaii, entered the ring, stamped the earth with his bare feet and chased the evil away.
The big guys were followed by 150 so-called Snow Children who sang and danced the Games' peace appeal song.
ODE TO JOY
The kids, who would later join the sumos carrying the signs announcing each nation in the parade of athletes, stole the show.
The event was also highlighted by the singing of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' simultaneously by choruses in Nagano and in locations in five countries in the world - Berlin, Sydney, New York, Beijing and Cape Point, South Africa - one for each continent symbolized by each Olympic ring.
There was no way of topping Muhammad Ali's lighting of the Olympic cauldron, the one positive enduring freeze-frame from the Atlanta Olympics.
But figure skater Midori Ito was such an obvious choice they didn't even try to shock or surprise anybody. Well, maybe they tried.
But it was a well-publicized fact that she'd been given the honor weeks before the Games began.
The sight of Ito lighting the birds-nest style cauldron while dressed in traditional Japanese robes was a freeze frame that could only be topped by Akebono stamping the earth.
It didn't beat Sarajevo, which remains my favorite Olympic Opening Ceremonies. But it was wonderful.
Let the Games begin.