Italian former cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo lights the Olympic flame

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated February 10, 2006 08:30 AM
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Italian former cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo lit the flame at Torino’s Olympic Stadium during Friday’s opening ceremony, after she took the torch from favored torchbearer, 10-time Olympic winner Alberto Tomba.

Some 35,000 attendees braved the cold and cheered during the ceremony, called “Rhythm, Passion and Speed,” which included rollerbladers, modern dancers and a performance by Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

Though the opening was Italian in theme it also struck an international note. For the first time, eight women carried the Olympic flag: Italian actress Sophia Loren, Chilean writer Isabel Allende, American actress Susan Sarandon, Cambodian human-rights activist Somaly Mam, Nobel Peace-prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya, and three Olympic medal winners. They were Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco, Manuela Di Centa of Italy, and Maria Mutola of Mozambique.

In terms of security, huge protective measures are in place to guard at least 15 heads of state, including first lady Laura Bush. On Thursday, organizers altered the route of the Olympic torch after some anti-capitalist protests broke out.

Though many of the athletes taking part in the Torino games marched into the stadium behind their national flag at Friday’s ceremony, those competing in the first events on Saturday are likely to skip the late night, reports Reuters.

The first Olympic title of the Games will be decided in the 12.4-mile individual biathlon event early Saturday afternoon. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who won all four 2002 biathlon gold medals in Salt Lake City, is considered the favorite and could conceivably top his own record now that a fifth biathlon event has been added to the games.

NBC is broadcasting the games. Check local listings for times.