Opening Ceremony Kicks off 2002 Winter Games

The 2002 Olympic Winter Olympic Games have officially begun with the parade of athletes, raising of the Olympic flag, and the lighting of cauldron.   President Bush made the opening official at about 9 PM local time with the traditional declaration, "I declare open the games of Salt Lake City, celebrating the Winter Olympic Games."

Once the Olympic flame entered the stadium it was passed to pairs athletes from the various winter sports and made its way to the base of the tower holding the cauldron.  The torch was passed to Mike Eruzione, Captain of the 1980 US Hockey team, who was then joined by the entire team who together completed the lighting of the cauldron.  The flame climbed a tower of steel and glass making its way to top.

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More than 52,000 spectators braved sub-freezing temperatures at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah's campus to witness the opening ceremonies -- the largest Opening Ceremonies attendance in the history of the Winter Olympics.

Following Olympic tradition, Greece led off the parade of athletes followed by more than 3000 athletes from 76 other nations, with the U.S. delegation entering last.   Short-track speedskater Amy Peterson, appearing in her fifth Winter Olympics, carried the American flag.

Before the official ceremonies the audience was rehearsed for the audience participation in the ceremonies using props provided on each seat in the stadium.  Later, the U.S. flag recovered from the World Trade Center rubble was brought into the arena carried by eight American athletes, including skater Todd Eldredge, and several New York City area police and firefighters.  The role of the flag in the opening ceremonies had been a source of controversy between the organizers and the IOC for several days and ultimately it was agreed that the flag would be presented as the official U.S. flag that would normally fly in the stadium.  In the end, however, its fragile condition precluded the flag being raised.

"This flag serves (as) a symbol of this nation's strength, of our resolve, of our determination to fight for freedom," President Bush told U.S. athletes prior to the start of the Opening Ceremony.

Before the parade of athletes, the opening pageantry featured fanciful ice-skating performance involving hundreds of skaters with a western heritage theme.  Native American were given a prominent role in the ceremony, with the leaders of the five tribes native to Utah welcoming the athletes in their native languages.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed with the Utah Symphony and they were joined throughout the ceremonies by performances from entertainers ranging from Sting and Yo-yo Ma to the Dixie Chicks.  In all, the ceremony is estimated to have cost as much as $37 million.

The Olympic flag was brought into the stadium by noted figures including astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu, Lech Walensa and director Steven Spielberg.

Security is increadibly tight with some areas taking on the appeance of armed fortraces.   About 10,000 security personnel are involved at these Games.  Estimates of the level of federal funding for the Games range from the official estimate of $342 million to a Sports Illustrated estimate of $1.5 billion.  This compares to an inflation adjusted $179.2 million for the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY, the last time the Winter Games were held in the U.S.