Blazing firework lights Whistler’s cauldron 

First medals of 2010 Olympics presented in village before spirited crowd

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It didn't have the money, the manpower or the star power of Vancouver's opening ceremony but Whistler's cauldron lighting, sparked by a flying firework, did not disappoint.

"This is your night," John Furlong, CEO of the organizing committee of the 2010 Games, told the cheering crowd Saturday. "This is the night you're going to get to see your own cauldron lit. You've waited a long time, you've worked awfully hard to have a great Olympic Games. It's all started."

Even the lashing rain couldn't dampen Saturday's celebration, the first medals presentation of the 2010 Winter Games, as a glowing red firework zipped across the night sky to light the giant torch-shaped cauldron at medals plaza.

"It was way more exciting," said local elementary school student Jack Forsyth, offering his honest assessment of the Whistler ceremony compared to the massive multi-million-dollar event televised across the world from Vancouver on Friday night. "They showed a firework go to the other torch, it was cool."

The torch lighting took some of the 2,000-strong crowd - about half the capacity of medals plaza - by surprise.

And, some were unaware that the torch was being lit, their view blocked by the tall production tower in the centre of the plaza.

"It was so unexpected... a wonderful surprise," said Teresa Hasick of Kelowna.

She was glad her crowd of friends, who had debated skipping the ceremony because of the rain, had decided to come.

"I've got my (Canadian) flag and it's keeping me dry!" she said.

Whistler's Rob Boyd, coach of the Canadian women's alpine team and winner of a 1989 World Cup downhill race on Whistler Mountain, lit the cauldron. He carried his own small torch through the crowd, the last torchbearer of the 12,000 chosen to carry the Olympic flame across the country on its long journey to 2010.

Near the stage he held the torch high, which began the chain reaction sending the firework into the cauldron.

The significance of his role was not lost on the three-time Olympian who was briefed by the torch team just before his run on how the flame was lit by the sun in Greece in October and every torch since can trace its origins back there.

"It's the end of a long journey for them (the torch team) and I felt pretty honoured to be taking that last step," said Boyd, stopping for pictures with fans in the rain after the lighting.

It was also amazing, he said, to be carrying the torch through a Whistler crowd, high-fiving familiar faces along the way.

"The spirit here is great," he said.

The crowd, decked out in their national flags and gear, cheered on for the first two emotional medals presentations of the Games.

The first was for the winner of the ski jumping normal hill event. Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann claimed the gold, his third Olympic gold. Polish jumper Adam Malysz took silver and Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer the bronze.

The medals for the women's 7.5 km biathlon sprint were also handed out, the gold going to Slovakia's Anastazia Kuzmina.

"It hadn't sunk in for me yet but seeing the athletes standing there, receiving their medals and the flags going up, it finally hit home," said Councillor Ralph Forsyth.

The All American Rejects kept the crowd dancing after the medals presentations.

Switzerland's Ammann was later paraded through a section of the village, thronged by cameras and media, an athlete rock star on his way to a massive celebration at Swiss House (The Mountain Club) by the Town Plaza gazebo.

As the Swiss partied and cheered on their champion, crowds gathered by the gazebo TVs hoping to see Canada secure its first medal.

There was a collective groan when B.C. native Kristi Richards fell in her quest for a moguls medal.

That disappointment was quickly overshadowed as Jennifer Heil raced down Cypress to claim the silver medal.

 

 

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