Winter Olympics start today

Published 9:12 pm Thursday, February 11, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The opening ceremony at the Olympics will take place indoors this year, the first time a host nation has put a roof over the extravagant spectacle. The event will be broadcast locally at 8 p.m. CST on NBC stations.

That’s probably just as well. For a few hours at least, maybe everyone can stop fretting about the weather.

The Vancouver Games begin Friday, and the conditions are almost as big a story as the athletes. A women’s downhill training session at Whistler was called off Thursday because of fog, but not before American Stacey Cook crashed after landing a jump. Over at Cypress Mountain, officials have been transporting snow by truck to help maintain the freestyle and snowboarding venues.

There will be no such concerns at the opening ceremony, however. That event, which will highlight NBC’s first-day coverage of the 2010 Games, will take place inside the 60,600-seat BC Place, a domed structure visible from all over Vancouver.

Instead of worrying about the constant rain that’s been falling on this picturesque waterfront town, athletes, spectators and viewers should be able to turn their attention toward the usual sources of suspense, such as who will light the giant flame.

“Wayne Gretzky,” speculated Canadian Alpine skier Tyler Nella. “You’ve got to have him.”

Teammate Jan Hudec disagreed, opting for another big name from Canada: “I am going with Pamela Anderson.”

Rain or shine, the hosts are ready for their Olympics. “Go Canada Go” is on display in windows all over Vancouver, and the home team hopes to finish near the top of the medals table — a dramatic improvement after Canada failed to win a single gold medal while hosting the 1988 Winter Games and the 1976 Summer Games.

Of course, with those expectations comes pressure, something Chinese athletes dealt with two summers ago in Beijing. But Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan isn’t worried about the hype. He could become the first Canadian man to win gold in figure skating, and he figures there’s a little bit of destiny at play.

“I see it as an opportunity,” Chan said. “It’s like the stars have aligned perfectly to make this happen.”

American Lindsey Vonn probably couldn’t disagree more. For a second straight Olympics, an injury is threatening to derail the Alpine skier’s pursuit of a gold medal. At the 2006 Turin Olympics, she crashed in training and ended up in the hospital. She went on to finish eighth in the downhill.

This time the problem is a bruised shin, enough of a problem that Vonn’s husband actually welcomed Thursday’s bad weather because it might give her more time to heal.

“It was debilitating before, but now it’s getting to the point where she can just grit her teeth and bear it,” Thomas Vonn said. “This might not be a popular opinion, but we can use all the delays we can get.”

Vonn’s injury could be bad news for NBC, which had planned to spotlight her, starting with the super-combined race Sunday. The games’ initial competition, ski jumping, starts before the opening ceremony Friday, but no medals will be won until Saturday.

Before that, Vancouver will have a chance to show off for world at the opening ceremony, which will be hosted by NBC’s Bob Costas and Matt Lauer, the same duo who anchored the opening ceremony in Beijing. NBC plans more than 835 hours of coverage, more than the last two Winter Olympics combined.

More than 2,500 athletes are expected at these Olympics. The parade of nations at the opening ceremony starts with Greece and ends with the host country. The U.S. is scheduled to march 82nd, with luger Mark Grimmette as the flagbearer.