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Vancouver 2010 Winter Games kick off


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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- While fog, snow and rain are a big worry for organizers of the skiing and snowboarding events, it's not a concern for tonight's opening ceremonies.

The XXI Olympic Winter Games be the first to hold them indoors.

About 55,000 spectators are expected to pack the BC Place Stadium. It's got the largest air-supported dome in North America.

And that could prove a blessing. Forecasters predict showers all weekend.

Organizers of the Vancouver Winter Games are keeping a tight lid on details about the opening ceremonies, and that's had Canadians speculating about who will cap things off by lighting the Olympic cauldron.

For some, Wayne Gretzky is the obvious choice. The hockey legend is consider the greatest player ever in Canada's most cherished sport.

But others are pulling for lesser known figures who might offer a different kind of inspiration.

One is Betty Fox. She's the mother of Terry Fox, who lost a leg to cancer at age 18, but attempted a cross-country marathon of Hope in 1980. He had to cut short the run, but hobbled more than 3,000 miles on an artificial leg. He died of lung cancer in 1981 at age 22.

Another candidate is Rick Hansen, a paraplegic athlete who has won numerous wheelchair marathons and wheeled through parts of four continents to raise money for research into spinal cord injuries.

There's also speculation that two cauldrons might be lit.

Mark Grimmette will lead the U.S. team into tonight's opening ceremonies at the Winter Olympics.

He's a two-time medalist in the doubles luge and this will be his fifth games.

His involvement in the sports dates back to 1984, when he found bulldozers ripping into the side of his favorite sledding hill. Turns out, a luge track was being built and he helped the crew finish the job.

Grimmette calls both Muskegon, Mich., and Lake Placid, N.Y., his home. He says people have been referring to his as the U.S. team's "elder statesman." The 39-year-old Grimmette says he's fine with that, as long as they don't mean "elderly."

Grimmette was one of eight U.S. athletes who carried a tattered flag pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center into the Salt Lake City Olympics, five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Canadian organizers of the Vancouver Winter Games aren't necessarily looking to make the kind of entrance onto global stage that China did with the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

They've opted for narrower goals.

While saying the top priority is to unite Canadians in support of the games and the national team, they've also declared their ambition to win the most medals. The Vancouver Organizing Committee has invested $117 million in a program it's called "Own The Podium" to make that happen.

Four years ago in Turin, Canada finished third behind Germany and the U.S.

Of course, for many, that better include a gold medal in men's hockey.

What nature brings is not exactly welcome at this point.

Snow and fog cut short women's downhill training Thursday after just two competitors tried the course. The second was American Stacey Cook. She crashed while trying to land a jump and was flown to a medical facility. But the USOC's chief medical officer says she's mostly all right, having suffered nothing more than "some pain and stiffness." She was released after a few hours.

Whistler isn't the only venue where conditions are a concern. Record-breaking warm, wet weather forced organizers to truck in snow to Cypress Mountain, where the snowboarding and freestyle skiing will be held. Organizers say they are ready though.

The coach of the U.S. women's ski team says he expects Lindsey Vonn will be going "full-bore" when competition starts and won't miss an event.

Vonn revealed two days ago that she bruised a shin earlier this month while training in Austria. But she was back on the slopes yesterday to test and declared herself "happy to be back on the snow." After taking painkillers and applying a numbing cream to the injury, she said it was "still very painful" but added it was "finally progressing a bit."

The U.S. Ski Team doctor says "everything seems to be resolving.

One physical therapist recommended that Vonn change boots, to get more cushioning where the equipment presses on the bruise, but Vonn's husband says that could also affect her performance and they rejected the idea.

Activists are planning the first big protest of the Vancouver Olympic games to coincide with the opening ceremonies tonight.

An informal coalition of activists is planning to demonstrate outside BC Place Stadium. Their list of grievances is long. Describing the games as a "two-week circus," they called for "all anti-capitalist, indigenous, housing rights, labor, migrant justice, environmental, anti-war, community-loving, anti-poverty, civil libertarian, and anti-colonial activists to come together" and confront the event.

Practical issues, such as traffic, are worrying some city residents.

That prompted the Vancouver Sun took print a front page column exhorting readers to overlook Olympic inconveniences and be gracious hosts. Declaring, "the party's on," columnist Stephen Hume wrote: "All that stands in the way of a good time is a petty decision not to have one."

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