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Vancouver Winter Games 2010 - 13. February 2010.

Athletes Share Amazing Ceremonies

It's officially on! In the truest spirit of the Games, members of 2010 Olympic Ski and Snowboarding Team took a break from their individual goals to share pride for their country and respect for competitors in Friday night's opening ceremonies at BC Place.

"You can always try to expect something like that, but you're never going to be right. It's always way better than you'd imagine," said women's alpine skier Leanne Smith (Conway, NH). "It's a cool moment, and it's something you can't really recreate. We're all really, really lucky to be a part of it."

Joining the U.S. Freestyle and U.S. Snowboarding Teams from nearby Cypress Mountain, eleven cross country athletes, one nordic combined participant, eight women's alpine competitors and six racers from the men's alpine squad made the trip east from Whistler to follow flag-bearing luge athlete Mark Grimmette in the parade.

"It was awesome. I don't even know how to explain it," said cross country skier Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT). "Coming out and hearing everyone cheering was so cool. I couldn't even believe it. It was definitely the biggest stadium I've ever been in."

"It was really awesome to be on the other end of the opening ceremonies," said Stephen's teammate, Morgan Arritola (Ketchum, ID). "I've always watched it on TV, but to actually be there was pretty amazing."

Canadian hockey great Wayne Gretzky joined speedskater Catriona Le May Doan, skier Nancy Greene, wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen and basketball player Steve Nash to light the flame in the stadium while the U.S. Olympic Team got a break from persistent rain in the first Opening Ceremonies ever held indoors for the Winter Games.

"The whole light show was pretty amazing, how they incorporated that into it, and how they got the crowd involved as well with flashlights and candles," said U.S. men's alpine racer Erik Fisher (Middleton, ID). "They were kind of telling us what to do as we went along. It was pretty fun to be engaged in what was happening."

Prior to the ceremonies beginning, the U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team got the honor of meeting Vice President Joe Biden, whose granddaughter wanted to take a picture with her hero, defending halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White (Carlsbad, CA).

"He was amazing, I was taking notes," White told NBC's Cris Collinsworth of his meeting with Biden.

Women's downhill skier Alice McKennis (Glenwood Springs, CO) got to walk with her former coach and U.S. Ski Cross Team member Casey Puckett (Aspen, CO).

"Before we walked out, I was getting butterflies, chills, and that kind of thing," McKennis said. "When we finally walked through that doorway, it was amazing - the coolest thing I've ever done. That was cool to be here with him. It was special and a feeling that I'll never forget."

Athletes and spectators observed a moment of silence for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luge competitor who died in training Friday at Whistler and had the ceremonies dedicated to him.

Many U.S. ski and snowboard athletes were recuperating from training in Whistler, almost two hours away, including downhill favorite Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO), who is resting her bruised shin. Vonn kicked off NBC's primetime coverage with an interview from USA House in Whistler.

"I'm disappointed I wasn't able to walk with my Team tonight, but I'm sure they're going to represent their country reall well," Vonn said after a course inspection of the downhill Friday. "I'll be watching on my TV at home doing therapy. But I have to be thinking about my races and my leg and trying to make my shin feel as good as possible. Unfortunately that means I won't be able to walk tonight."

Also in Whistler was the U.S. Ski Jumping Team, preparing for tomorrow's first and final rounds beginning at 9:45 a.m. PT on the normal hill at Whistler Olympic Park. All three U.S. jumpers qualified.

The men's downhill is slated for 11:45 a.m. on the Dave Murray Course at Whistler Creekside, and freestyle women's moguls will take place at Cypress Mountain Saturday evening .
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