Even the weather was perfect at the opening ceremonies

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Right on time and as if on cue Friday night, all the clouds that hung over Salt Lake City disappeared to reveal the rest of the world.

The weather inversion that had trapped a gloomy haze over the city and obscured its signature mountain view was forced out by a morning snowstorm. Then so much controversy and criticism aimed this way was gone by the end of the night, chased away by a procession of athletic potential, the promise of harmony and one timely Coyote Dance.

That's what an Olympic Opening Ceremony usually does, overshadows any peripheral complications with a blizzard of local culture and international camaraderie. But few before could have been more successful or necessary than the one here Friday that introduced the 2002 Winter Games to an audience of 50,000 at Rice-Eccles Stadium and an estimated three billion worldwide.

Salt Lake needed an uncomplicated night, the same way each of the 77 countries participating in the Games and all of international sports did. That arrived with the first tangible performance of these Olympics, an elaborate production that was at the same time a simple Band-Aid on the Games' perceived wounds.

And, if only for three hours Friday, even the underlying fear of what might happen here during the next three weeks was suspended by what did happen on the University of Utah's scenic campus.

After all, what was there to worry about?

Suddenly, Salt Lake's Games weren't about underhanded bidding or American boosterism so much as they were the gentle celebration they are supposed to be. They were about children singing songs and praise to athletes. They were about dove kites flitting in the air, ice-skaters dancing freely beneath a brilliant, light snow and fireworks crackling in front of the white-capped mountains where many events will take place beginning today.

And they were about lighting a fire within on a frigid night with the whole world watching, a contrived slogan transforming into real sentiment for once.

Talk about global warming.

This was a seamlessly respectful program, from the time the President walked through the crowd to the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. hockey team lighting the cauldron.

Even the latest, least-sensitive uneasiness was taken from issue to an inspiration, when the flag recovered from the World Trade Center was carried into the hushed stadium. After two days of fretting, the only objection Friday could have been that the negotiated gesture was not conspicuous enough, stuck into the first 30 minutes of a three-hour show.

There really shouldn't have been any fuss about its inclusion in the first place.

The same way that threadbare banner has held meaning outside New York since September, it was more than a symbol of America resilience Friday night. It was a singular emblem of unity and humanity, something everyone here, host or visitor, could embrace.

And more than anything that was carried into, held above or whisked around the stadium, that flag touched off the accord that must emerge at the start of any Games.

These Olympics will have their problems, of course.

Transportation systems are always ripe for disaster. The local culture this time is particularly vulnerable to cruel appraisal. Already, the first scheduled competition was postponed Friday.

And, if an event contested on skis can get snowed out, other surprises should be expected.

But they were thankfully absent Friday, making SLC's most ornate spectacle something to feel as well as see. And making the opening of the largest international gathering since an American tragedy another benchmark in our recovery.

It was 150 days ago that the whole world seemed to stand together in one of our worst moments. Last night, it walked together in one of the best, most memorable and least controversial there will be at these Olympics.

That will make for a nice night anywhere.

Savannah Morning News sports columnist Tim Guidera is part of a team covering the Winter Olympics for Morris News Service. He can be reached at guidera@hotmail.com.

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