SNOW TIME! Winter Olympics open with pomp, circumstances LILLEHAMMER '94


LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- It was a day of celebration, a day of remembrance.

There were Sami yodelers, Telemark skiers and Jamaican bobsledders.

There were 35,000 spectators outfitted in white ponchos, like snowflakes, and Canadian athletes dressed as Mounties.

There was a prince from Monaco who carried a flag and a prince from Norway who ignited a caldron.

And there was the bravest man in all of Norway, the ski jumper who launched himself off a 120-meter tower with an Olympic flame in hand.

This was yesterday's opening ceremony of the 17th Winter Olympics.

On a frigid afternoon under a lead-gray sky, the sun set, the snow fell and a world of nearly 2,000 athletes from 66 nations marched together inside an icy bowl.

But overshadowing all was the memory of another Winter Olympics from a decade past.

The siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, site of the 1984 Winter Games, haunts the Olympic movement.

International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch called on the crowd in the ski jump bowl, plus the estimated 2 billion television viewers, to rise and recall in silence Sarajevo, a city "whose people for over two years have suffered too much."

"Please stop fighting," Samaranch told the crowd that included First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea. "Please stop killing. Drop your guns. Please."

As the crowd grew silent, attention was focused on 14 Bosnian athletes, some of whom braved bullets just to get to the Winter Olympics.

But this ceremony was also about the joy of sports, the thrill of competition and the beautiful simplicity of the Norwegian hosts.

Skiers with fiddles shared a snow-covered dance floor with herds of reindeer. Sky divers soared over a mountain, a giant Norwegian flag in hand.

And there was the lilting melodies of Sami singers, descendants of nomadic herders, performing a centuries-old joik, or yodel.

Of course, the stars of this show were the athletes, the best performers on ice and snow. And they marched together in an assembly of nations that began with Greece, ancestral home of the Olympics, and ended with Norway.

Israel made its Winter Olympic debut with a skater born in Ukraine. South Africa joined the Winter Olympic world, too.

There was a skier from Senegal, bobsledders from American Samoa and lugers from the Virgin Islands.

Prince Albert, an Olympic bobsled veteran, carried the flag for the country he may one day rule, Monaco.

The 155-member U.S. delegation, outfitted in gray Stetson hats and blue knee-length coats, was led by flag-bearer Cammy Myler, a three-time Olympic luger from Lake Placid, N.Y.

The crowd roared for the Americans. Roared louder still for the Bosnians. And then waved flags and roared loudest for the Norwegians, who were led by cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie.

Norway's King Harald V declared open the Winter Games.

His son, Crown Prince Haakon, ignited the Olympic flame.

But it was the delivery of the Olympic torch by ski jumper Stein Gruben that provided the most astonishing scene of all.

As twilight fell, he leaped off a 120-meter jump with the fiery flame in hand.

It was an act that moved 16-year-old U.S. Olympic ski jumper Todd Lodwick to declare: "I can't conceive of jumping with a foreign object in my hand. I might carry a match, not a torch."

But this was a day for superlatives.

Now, the 16-day Games are opened. Surely, there are enough plot lines to captivate a world.

There is the American figure skating scandal, involving Nancy Kerrigan, victim of a Jan. 6 clubbing, and her rival, Tonya Harding.

There are the Olympic comebacks of American Brian Boitano and German Katarina Witt.

And there is a Norwegian national hero, cross-country skier Vegard Ulvang, who will aim for gold medals and then return home north of the Arctic Circle to continue the search for a brother presumed dead.

Yesterday, Ulvang took an oath on behalf of all the athletes.

With a smile on his face and urgency in his voice, he declared: "In the name of all the competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams."

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