— By

The Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — In time-honored tradition, the show went on.

Despite the training-run death earlier in the day of a luger from the country of Georgia, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics were launched Friday night with a jubilant countdown by the crowd filling BC Place Stadium.

The festive mood, and the opening act of a snowboarder’s leap through giant Olympic rings, contrasted sharply with the grief that befell the games earlier when luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a horrific crash during a practice run on the sliding track at Whistler.

The track is one of the fastest in the world, and more than a dozen Olympians had crashed during training this week.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was visibly shaken as he addressed the media. ”Here you have a young athlete that lost his life in pursuing his passion. He had a dream to participate in the Olympic Games. He trained hard and he had this fatal accident. I have no words to say what we feel. The whole Olympic family is struck by this tragedy, which clearly casts a shadow over these games.”

The International Luge Federation is conducting an investigation into the circumstances of the accident. Training was suspended, and officials want to make certain the course is safe for competition.

Two luge competitors with ties to Maine will compete in Vancouver. Julia Clukey, 24, who was born in and resides in Augusta, and Megan Sweeney, 22, who was born in Portland and now lives in Connecticut, will compete in the women’s two-day luge event that begins Monday.

The ceremonies were dedicated to Kumaritashvili. The seven remaining members of the Georgian delegation, who decided to stay and compete, wore black armbands as they marched behind a black-trimmed flag. Most of the crowd rose to give respectful applause. There were also plans to lower the Olympic and Canadian flags to half-staff.

More than 50,000 ticketholders packed into the stadium for the extravaganza, the first Olympic opening or closing ceremony ever held indoors.

Rain was forecast through the weekend in Vancouver, with high temperatures near 50 degrees, prompting some to dub these the Spring Olympics. Rain also has disrupted Alpine skiing events at Whistler.

According to the program, the opening ceremony was to climax with the Olympic cauldron being lit jointly by four Canadian sports heroes — hockey great Wayne Gretzky, skier Nancy Greene, speedskater Katrina LeMay Doan, and National Basketball Association All-Star Steve Nash.

About 2,500 athletes from a record 82 countries are participating in the games, vying for medals in 86 events — including the newly added ski-cross competition. First-time Winter Olympic participants include the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru and Serbia.

The overall favorites include Germany and the United States — which finished first and second four years ago in Turin — and also Canada, a best-ever third in 2006 and now brashly proclaiming its intention to finish atop the medals table on its home turf.

”We’re still going to be nice, but we’re going to be nice in winning,” said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

The Canadian team was the last contingent in the parade of nations at Friday’s ceremony, marching behind flagbearer Clara Hughes, defending gold medalist in the 5,000-meter speedskating race.

Just ahead in the parade were the Americans. Their flagbearer was Mark Grimmette, 39, of Muskegon, Mich., competing in his fifth Olympics as a doubles luge competitor.

U.S. team officials said Grimmette would wear a Georgian pin in honor of Kumaritashvili, who would have been one of his Olympic rivals.

The cultural segment of the ceremony featured many of Canada’s best-known musical stars — including Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang.

It also highlighted performers and traditions from Canada’s aboriginal communities. And the highest-ranking official delegation at the ceremony — amid dignitaries from around the world — included the four chiefs of the First Nations whose traditional native territory overlaps the Olympic region.

Several well-known Canadians received the honor of carrying the Olympic flag at a high-profile moment near the end of the ceremony. Among them were hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, singer Anne Murray, race car driver Jacques Villeneuve and Betty Fox, mother of national hero Terry Fox.

Terry Fox lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster, then set off in 1980 on a fundraising trek across Canada. He had to give up after covering more than 3,000 miles, and died in 1981 at age 22, but remains revered by his compatriots as a symbol of courage and perseverance.

The flame reached the stadium after a 106-day torch relay across Canada, passing through more than 1,000 communities in every province and territory.

McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.