Winter Olympics Open Amid Tight Security

ByABC News

S A L T   L A K E   C I T Y, Feb. 8, 2002 -- The Winter Olympics opened tonight amid heightened security, tearful reflection and boisterous anticipation of the games ahead.

Lighting the 117-foot glass Olympic Cauldron toward the end of the ceremonies was Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 Olympic U.S. ice hockey gold medal-winning team, and his team mates.

Though an international event, the Games took on a heavier patriotic tone because of last year's terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A New York City police officer sang "God Bless America" during the pre-show portion of the ceremonies.

"Your nation is overcoming a horrific tragedy — a tragedy thathas affected the whole world," said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. "We stand united withyou in the promotion of our common ideals, and hope for worldpeace."

Braving below-freezing temperatures, President Bush opened the Games as 55,000 spectators and 2,500 athletes looked on.

After Bush walked on the field of Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium, the crowd became silent as a special delegation carried out the tattered U.S. flag that flew over the World Trade Center. Bush and spectators wiped tears from their eyes as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the delegates began folding the tattered flag.

But the silent crowd soon began to roar as they watched athletes from 77 nations parade into the stadium.

Later, Bush stood amid the U.S. Olympic team to officially launch the games. "On behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation, Ideclare open the games of Salt Lake City, celebrating the WinterOlympic Games," Bush said.

Security Personnel Outnumber Athletes

The Games come almost five months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States. As such, security is the tightest ever with security personnel expected to outnumber athletes 6-1.

All spectators will be searched and the air space above Salt Lake City was closed to aircraft during the opening ceremonies.

That vigilance has already paid off. In the past week, U.S. military Black Hawk helicopters with armed customs officials have intercepted a dozen planes that flew too close to the Olympic village.

At the cross-country skiing venue, authorities found a sniper rifle and at least 300 rounds of ammunition.

"I've never felt safer in my life," said speedskater Amy Peterson, who led the U.S. delegation into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium. "I'm pretty confident that the organizations that are in charge of the security have done their best to make sure that it's a safe event."

First U.S. Winter Games Since 1980

The Olympics in Utah are first to be held in the United States since the Summer Games in Atlanta in 1996. And they'll be the last for at least the next 10 years, when U.S. officials hope to bring the Summer Games back to one of four American cities. The last U.S. Winter Games were held in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980.

In advance of the opening ceremonies today, some preliminary runs in mountain events were set to be held. But a fresh snow storm and harsh weather cancelled all but the opening ceremony.

The U.S. Olympic team is expected to win more medals than ever in events including the skeleton and women's bobsled, the latter of which is making its Olympic debut.

One other record will be broken — this will be the most costly Winter Olympics ever and taxpayers are footing much of the bill, $1.5 billion, most of it for the construction of Olympic venues.

ABCNEWS' Bill Redeker in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events