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Welcoming a world audience to Salt Lake City

Opening ceremonies of mostly local talent


Before the first ski jumper took flight, before ice skaters cut graceful paths, some 3.5 billion Olympics viewers globally came to know a child of light. The child is a symbol of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Games — a manifestation of the human spirit’s ability to endure adversity’s icy storms and ultimately triumph via the sustaining fire within.

The Child of Light was the central figure in one of the many dramatic moments of the Game’s opening ceremonies at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium on Feb. 8. He was depicted by a 12-year-old boy on skates who dramatically evokes his inner fire to overcome life’s obstacles in an epic, theatrical show that opened the Games and welcomed a world audience to Salt Lake City.

The child is the ubiquitous face of the Salt Lake Games, appearing throughout the ceremony and at medal presentations where athletes were honored for their achievement and determination.

The opening ceremonies— which television ratings indicate was the most watched opening ceremonies in Olympic history, with 72 million viewers in the United States alone and up to 3.5 billion worldwide — was produced under the direction of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, yet Church members played roles in myriad elements of the pageant. SLOC president and lifelong Church member Mitt Romney said the Olympic lesson taught by the Child of Light in the opening ceremonies will remain after the final medal is awarded.

“We believe that the story of these Games will carry on long past 2002, that the passion and pride, the humanity and dignity of athletes will outlast records and results,” Brother Romney wrote. “Through the opening ceremonies, we aim to allow this story to endure for years and even generations in the hearts and minds of all our spectators, whether they are watching in person or from thousands of miles away.”

Near the beginning of the opening ceremonies, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir stood at the south end of the stadium and sang the American national anthem for a stadium audience that included U.S. president George W. Bush. Their performance was prefaced by a somber reminder. An honor guard consisting of U.S. athletes and representatives from New York City’s police and fire agencies carried into the stadium a large, tattered American flag that flew at the World Trade Center when terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

Wagons enter the stadium during the American West Suite of the Opening Ceremonies of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games at Rice-Eccles Stadium Friday, Feb. 8, 2002.

Wagons enter the stadium during the American West Suite of the Opening Ceremonies of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games at Rice-Eccles Stadium Friday, Feb. 8, 2002.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The damaged flag was deemed too fragile to be be flown; as another flag rippled gently in the night breeze, the choir’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner seemed a patriotic prayer. “I knew that was going to be a touching moment,” said choir member Lee Zurligen.

The Child of Light’s subsequent ceremonial victory over adversity on an ice sheet stretching across the stadium’s field seemed an apropos segue to the traditional Parade of Athletes. More than 2,300 athletes from 77 nations are participating in the 2002 Winter Games. Their happy, peaceful entry into the stadium seemed to illustrate the tenacious lessons of the Child of Light. Each athlete had a single story to tell — yet all represented lives of hard work, dedication and perseverance.

The exuberant athletes traded handshakes and Olympic pins with choir members as they climbed to their seats in the stadium’s south end zone.

Then it was time to celebrate. Five continents of the world have gathered in Utah for the Games — they were welcomed by representatives of the state’s five original Indian nations: the Utes, Goshutes, Shoshone, Paiutes and Navajo-Dine. Their dancing and song were followed by musical tributes to the American West experience. Actors depicting Mormon pioneers and other Utah sojourners were joined by skaters manipulating horse, buffalo, bear and rattlesnake puppets.

Oscar-winning composer and conductor John Williams then incorporated the sounds and voices of the Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir for a performance of his “Call of the Champions,” the official musical theme of the 2002 Winter Games. Tens of thousands of stadium spectators soon doubled as pageant cast members, flipping large colored cards on cue to spell the Game’s theme “Light the Fire Within” in a stunt display that encircled the stadium.

The opening ceremonies reached its crescendo when President Bush declared the opening of the Games. American heroes from past and present Winter Olympic teams then passed on the Olympic flame to members of the gold medal winning 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team, who ignited the stylish Olympic caldron atop the south bleachers of the stadium.

With the caldron aglow and the Games officially underway, a burst of finale fireworks illuminated the stadium to the accompaniment of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” played by the symphony orchestra and sung by the Tabernacle Choir.

E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com

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