The Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games began with one of Italy’s greatest gymnasts and gold medal winner Yuri Chechi striking a bronze anvil several times to the sounds of cheering spectators, and ended with the spectacular voice of Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
The 35,000 spectators at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico were treated to an evening of “Rhythm, Passion and Speed” as promised by the show’s producers.
The two and a half hour ceremony included roller bladers in red body stockings who were hurtled down ramps onto a white stage, the backs of their heads shooting two-foot bursts of fire; and dancers wearing green sheaths prancing near brightly painted fake cows pulled on rollers – a tribute to the seven countries abutting the majestic Alps, including Austria, Germany and France.
In what executive producer Marco Bacilli described as an “iconic moment” as reported by the Associated Press, silver-clad dancers appeared with big, white bubbles stuck to their heads. Bacilli said the balls signified snow.
Giorgio Armani designed a sparkling white, floor-length gown worn by Italian supermodel Carla Bruni as she carried Italy’s flag; and a nine-year old girl sang Italy’s national anthem, followed by a rousing version played by a full orchestra.
Other highlights included dancers in red bowing to the Olympic rings while they were being raised on 40-foot cranes. When all five rings were linked they changed from white to the colours of Olympic unit – red, yellow, green, black and blue.
Classical dancer and favourite son Roberto Bolle from the Piedmont province that encompasses Turin performed a surrealistic interlude described as “a modern, futuristic dance”.
Three-time gold medal winner in cross country skiing Stefania Belmondo received the Olympic flame and touched it to a wire that lit an arc of fireworks winding its way to the Olympic cauldron. She was followed on centre stage by Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, the closing act, who gave a stirring performance.
For the first time eight female celebrities carried the Olympic flag. They were Italian actress Sophia Loren, Chilean writer Isabel Allende, American actress Susan Sarandon, Nobel Peace prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Italy’s IOC member Manuela Di Centa, 2000 Olympic gold medallist Maria Mutola of Mozambique and Cambodian activist Somaly Mam.
British musician Peter Gabriel sang the John Lennon song Imagine, introduced by Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono.
Sixty one hundred volunteers helped stage the event for which they practiced an estimated 10,000 hours. The cost of both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies is $34 million.
IOC President Jacques Rogge welcomed the athletes to Turin. He said, “you are at the heart of these Games, which were created for you. Give these Games the magic that we all desire, not only through your performances, but also, and above all, through your conduct.
“Athletes, you are role models; your conduct will inspire and motivate the future generations.
“Please compete in a spirit of fair play, mutual understanding and respect and, above all, compete cleanly by refusing doping”. He then declared the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games officially open.