Flame-lighting marred by malfunction

Fourth leg never surfaced from ground

Published February 13, 2010 1:45PM (EST)

What should have been the crowning moment of an opening ceremony years in the planning lost some of its glitter when one of the four pillars supporting the Olympic cauldron failed to rise from the floor of the stadium Friday night.

While the four Canadian sports heroes bearing torches -- hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, basketball All-Star Steve Nash, skier Nancy Greene and speedskater Catriona LeMay Doan -- stood by helplessly at center stage, there was an awkward two-minute pause while flashbulbs popped and the crowd murmured in anticipation.

The slam-bang ending went on, but LeMay Doan never got the chance to light the flame. Because of a mechanical glitch, her pillar didn't get out of the trap door that was supposed to open and release it.

"Fortunately the cauldron functions with three arms, as you saw," Vancouver Olympics executive producer David Atkins said at a news conference late Friday night. "The team did an extraordinary job at the last minute recovering from that and reprogramming the cauldron to still be delivered to the central girder."

Atkins said it was too soon to know what caused the glitch. He pointed out that the same trap door "worked perfectly well" earlier in the ceremony, when it released a totem pole.

Considering the time, effort and money that went into the production, it would've been understandable if Atkins missed a breath or two when the door jammed. He insists there was no time for that.

"It's a live performance. All those things happen," said Atkins, who was the artistic director of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

"We're living in a real world. It's not a post-produced event. It's an event that's produced live with 3 billion people watching. It's that excitement that makes it what it is. So in lots of ways it was a reminder to me that that's what we do. And every day is absolutely 100 percent real."

Atkins offered kudos to LeMay Doan for keeping the scene from getting any worse.

"(She) stood there calmly as I talked her through a non-lighting cauldron moment," he said. "She was quite fabulous."

Better still, Atkins added, "there was a cauldron waiting in the wings."

The glitchy structure inside BC Place actually was the first of two -- and it was the smaller one. A similar structure made of glass and steel near the downtown waterfront was still to be lit.

Gretzky had the honor of igniting it. He left the stadium still carrying his torch, jumped into the back of a truck and was ferried over. The lighting went off as planned, too.

The 32-foot-high, outdoor structure will serve as a symbol for the remainder of the Winter Games, a grand image the indoor stadium could not provide. Even after the flame is extinguished, it is designed to last for decades, which should outlast the image of LeMay Doan standing by helplessly waiting for the arm to rise up.


By Jaime Aron

MORE FROM Jaime Aron

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Winter Olympics 2010