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Winter Olympics - Impressions at the Start

Visitors line up to enter the Winter Games venues on opening day. Umbrellas were plentiful, snow was not
Visitors line up to enter the Winter Games venues on opening day. Umbrellas were plentiful, snow was not

VOA correspondent Kane Farabaugh is in Vancover covering the Games and shares these thoughts as the events begin

The gray skies over Vancouver for much of the start of the XXI Winter Olympic Games reflected the mood among the people and athletes who have come to Canada from around the world.

The death of the Georgian Luge Slider Nodar Kumaritashvili was the dominant news story for much of the first two days of Olympic competition. Just hours before the opening ceremony, the 21-year-old athlete lost control of his sled at the Whistler Sliding Center while practicing at the facility about 145 kilometers north of Vancouver. He died from injuries he sustained after flying off the track and striking a metal beam.

A death during Olympic competition is a rare event, but when it happens almost everyone - athlete and spectator alike - is affected by the loss.

The Opening Ceremonies were a bittersweet occasion, with Canada trying to balance the elaborate celebration with the shock of Kumaritashvili's death still fresh on the hearts and minds of fellow athletes. The Georgian Olympic Team wore black armbands in honor of their teammate, and organizers quickly made changes to dedicate the event to Kumaritashvili.

In a press conference the following day, teammate Otar Japaridze explained why the Georgian contingent would stay in the competition.

"This is the lowest, but at the same the highest point of our careers, because of the compassion and solidarity that we felt from everyone around," Japaridze somberly told reporters. "Despite this tragic event, our team will carry on the with the dream of Nodar and carry on in his honor."

Luge competition started a day after the accident, with a lower starting position for the athletes and a newly constructed wall in front of the metal beams at the final turn of the course.

As the Olympians try to focus on competing, the other story in Vancouver is the weather. Noticeably absent is the presence of any snow in the city, and weather continues to play havoc on the ski courses at Whistler, forcing some events to be postponed.

Street vendor Dave Koret says he is not bothered by the seemingly incessant rain that fell throughout the city most of the first days of the Olympics.

"Definitely a lot warmer here," Koret says. He is originally from the colder climate in Calgary, Alberta, home to the 1988 Winter Olympics. They've been trucking in snow from a lot of places to get the snowbird venues ready. So it's a little bit different of a Canadian winter for me, but nonetheless still Canadian."

"The weather is fairly normal," explains Vancouver native Gerald Arksey. He was selected as one of the hundreds of honored torchbearers to carry the Olympic flame on an emotional journey throughout Canada. "I still choke up when I talk about it. It was amazing."

The end of the flame's journey in Canada is now a major attraction. The Olympic Flame burns atop a huge torch situated near the harbor in Vancouver.

The first hint of sunshine on Valentine's Day brought tens of thousands of people into the streets near the attraction, which will continue to burn until February 28th, when the closing ceremonies at BC Place stadium mark the end of the XXI Winter Olympiad.