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Amazing Moments in Olympic History: Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony

Feb. 04, 2009, 9:38 a.m. (ET)


Nearly 7 years ago, on February 8, 2002, the XIX Olympic Winter Games were declared open in Salt Lake City.  With the September 11th terrorist attacks still fresh in the minds of Americans and the world, the opening ceremonies were a tribute to athletes and real life heroes alike.

As a tribute to the victims and heroes of the attacks, the organizing committee proposed that the World Trade Center flag be included in the Opening Ceremony.  After much deliberation and negotiation with the International Olympic Committee, it was agreed that the flag would be presented during the performance of the United States National Anthem by the Mormon Tabernacle Chior. 

The tattered flag was carried in by an honor guard of New York City and Port Authority police officers, New York City firefighters, and 8 athletes representing each of the winter sports federations.  As they entered and made their way to the center of the stadium a respectful silence fell over the crowd until all that could be heard was the sound of security helicopters overhead.

Other highlights of the ceremony included a rendition of "God Bless America" by Daniel Rodriguez, one of the designated National Anthem singers in the NYPD's ceremonial division and LeAnn Rimes' performance of the official song of the Games, "Light the Fire Within".  In a move both celebrated and criticized, George W. Bush broke with tradition by declaring the Games open while standing among the U.S. athletes rather than from a ceremonial box as previous heads of state had done.  It marked the first time a sitting American president opened an Olympic Winter Games held in the United States. 

As in previous Games, the identity of the individual(s) who would light the cauldron remained a secret until the very end.  As current Olympians Cammi Granato and Picabo Street approached with the torch, Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Hockey Team appeared in sight.  Just as he had done twenty-two years prior on the podium after receiving his gold medal, he beckoned below him to the rest of his teammates who became visible to the crowd.  In a scene reminiscent of their historic medals ceremony, they joined him to light the cauldron as a team.

The Opening Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games marked a break in the period of mourning after 9-11, and gave the United States and the world an opportunity to become one and celebrate.

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"Amazing Moments in Olympic History" will be published every Wednesday on teamusa.org.  Check back weekly to see more landmark achievements and incredible feats in the history of Team USA and the Olympic Movement.