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Opening Night
Passion and wheels of fire begin Winter Olympic Games
By Jacob Wieseneck, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

the Olympic flame
The Olympic flame burns after being lit to marking the beginning of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, Friday February 10, 2006.
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP Wide World)
What do extraordinary athletes, cowbells, world leaders, opera stars, rock and roll singers, and fire-bearing roller skaters have in common? They all were participants in Friday night's three-hour opening ceremony of the 20th Winter Olympics held in Torino, Italy.

Passion was the night's main theme, as the event highlighted Italy's leadership in design, style, and speed. Producer Marco Balich successfully blended these qualities of Italy to make this extravaganza truly unique. A crowd of 35,000 filled the seats of Torino's Stadio Comunale to cheer on the 2,500 athletes in the Parade of Nations. The loudest applause was received by the home country's own athletes, who, by tradition, always enter last.

U.S. First Lady, Laura Bush, smiled joyfully during the entrance of the 200 United States athletes, who also received a warm welcome from the Italian spectators.

Breaking away from tradition, many important parts of this year's ceremony were conducted by women. The Italian national anthem "L'Inno di Mameli" was sung by a 9-year-old girl. The Italian flag was presented by supermodel, Clara Bruni, and the Olympic flag was presented by eight women, including Italian actress Sophia Loren, and American movie star Susan Sarandon.

Famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti, world-renowned rock star Peter Gabriel, and leading ballet dancer Roberto Bolle were part of a large list of entertainers who performed.

But the star of the night was Stefania Belmondi, the woman who lit the Olympic cauldron to signify the official start of competition. Italian skiing superstar Albert Tomba brought the torch into the stadium and handed it off to a series of former Italian medalists until the torch was in the hands of Belmondo, a 10-time Olympic medalist in cross-country skiing. Once the cauldron was lit, a spectacular fire display was presented above Studio Comunale.

With a start like this, the 20th Winter Olympic Games should be among the best yet!


Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.