Olympic Opening Stumbles

The opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics at B.C. Place became a game of improvisation Feb. 12 when a hydraulic arm malfunctioned during the lighting ceremony.

The mechanical mishap left one torchbearer, two-time Olympic speedskater Catriona Le May Doan, with no pillar to light during the event, so she did what any good Olympian would do in the situation – grinned and beared it.

“I stayed really calm and everybody goes, ‘You were very relaxed,’” she told reporters following the snag. “The mastermind behind it, [artistic director] David Atkins, he’s in our ear and he was so calm, and I know he must have been panicking, but my panic was our torches are going to go out.”

The three remaining pillars eventually rose from the floor of the arena and were lit by Le May Doan’s fellow torchbearers Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash and Nancy Greene.

Atkins apparently understood the gravity of such an error during a live ceremony, broadcast to 3 billion people, with a crowd of 60,000 in attendance, and recovered nicely during questioning with reporters.

“It’s a very complex piece of equipment,” he explained. “As you saw, It literally had to dance its place into its final position. Unfortunately, the trap that revealed it from the floor of the stadium, which worked perfectly well at the beginning of the ceremony … with the totems rising from the floor, had some mechanical failure.

“It was an example of the fact that we’re all human, and the ceremony celebrated that fact in all sorts of ways, by virtue of the cauldron and the hand of God coming in to remind us that we have some sort of fallibility there.”