The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - February 11

A crowd of some 35,000 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 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.

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.