The 2006 Winter Olympics opened in the Northern Italian city of Turin Friday night under a nearly full moon. As VOA's Steve Schy reports, the theme of these Olympics, Passion Lives Here, was reflected in the opening ceremony's mixture of pageantry, pyrotechnics, music and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
A crowd of some 35,000, including U.S First Lady Laura Bush and Italian film legend Sophia Loren, filled the Olympic Stadium. More than 4,700 performers, including fast-moving skaters with fiery rocket packs,dancers and even dancing cows opened the festivities.
Some 2,600 athletes from the more than 80 countries and territories marched into the stadium accompanied by American pop music from the 1970s and 1980s. The worldwide television audience was estimated at around two billion.
Following more than two hours of celebration and pageantry, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge addressed the athletes.
"Please compete in the spirit of fair play, mutual understanding, and respect," he said. "And above all, please compete cleanly by refusing doping.
Then, the president of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi officially opened the Games.
"I declare open in Turin the celebration of the 20th Winter Olympic Games," he said.
The musical highlights of the show included an appearance by the late John Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono, and his song "Imagine" sung by Peter Gabriel.
The entertainment was capped off with a performance by legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
The final torch bearer was former cross country skier Stefania Belmondo of Italy. She lit the tallest-ever Olympic cauldron, which rises to 57 meters. It will be seen throughout the city during the 16 days of competition, as athletes vie for 84 gold medals in 15 sports.
The Olympics are being protected by unprecedented security, which includes some 15,000 Italian police and a no-fly zone backed up by NATO fighter jets.