Shaun White
2006 Winter Olympic Games: Opening Ceremony
It's a little ridiculous how excited I am that this night has arrived! There's something so magical and exciting about the Winter Olympics that I just can't explain. I can't believe it's already been four years since I was tearing up when little Sarah Hughes took the gold in Salt Lake City. But before the madness begins, it's the mother of all events: Opening Ceremony. During this extravagant four-hour affair, we were taken on a journey of passion, fire, ice and endless clichés. Not to mention the obvious push for a time of peace during the one moment when the entire world is united. It all kicked off with NBC's Brian Williams reminding us how "dicey" our world is now and that "sports can do what diplomats and presidents can't always do, which is unify and change things for the better." Amen, Father Williams. My favorite highlights of the opening performance include watching the skaters form a beating heart, then later form two X's to symbolize the 20th Winter Games; the skaters with flaming backpacks; the guy with a pink Mohawk dancing ballet; performances by Luciano Pavarotti and Peter Gabriel; the red Ferrari spinning circles in the ice rink; Yoko Ono reading a "peace poem"; and, of course, the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron. After 240 minutes, 80 countries and 2,500 athletes walking through the stadium, here are the top 13 things I learned this evening: 1) These are the first Winter Olympics in which North and South Korea walked in as one. 2) Germany is home to the "Speeding White Sausage," the luge legend who's won five medals. 3) Japan is "Giappone" in Italian. 4) Thirty-eight percent of the Winter athletes are women. 5) India is the world's second-largest country in population and only sent four athletes. 6) Though the country has ice in its name, Iceland has never medaled in the Winter Olympics. 7) The Virgin Islands are home to the oldest female Winter Games athlete. 9) Norway holds the medal record: 261 Winter medals, 44 more than the second-place country. 10) Netherlands is "Paesi Bassi" in Italian. 11) Russia has this year's largest delegation — although Bob Costas said it was over 200 athletes and their title card said 181, so I'm not sure whom to believe. 12) San Marino's population of 28,000 wouldn't fill up the Olympic Stadium, and at 24 square miles, it's a third of the size of Washington, D.C. Yet they claim to be the world's oldest republic, founded in 301. 13) Ukraine's only Winter gold medal is Oksana Baiul's from the infamous 1994 Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding competition. Despite feeling a teeny bit pessimistic about my country these days, I actually found myself beaming with pride to hear the crowd roar when the 211 athletes from "Stati Uniti d'America" walked in. It's going to be an incredible two weeks, folks. As for me, I can't wait to see snowboarder Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White, the women's figure-skating showdown and, of course, how many times "The Star-Spangled Banner" will be heard in medal ceremonies. — Maya Schecter

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