Olympic Games begin tomorrow

The athletes, the torch and the media have arrived. Soon, the Olympics will arrive as well. The 2002 Winter Olympics get underway Friday in Salt Lake City, Utah, and there will be plenty of entertainment to go along with the world-class competition. The opening ceremonies begin Friday at 7 p.m. on NBC and will feature performances by Sting, the Dixie Chicks, LeAnn Rimes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Yo-Yo Ma. The usual pomp and circumstance that accompanies the ceremonies will be in full force as well. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron, the signature event during opening night, is being hyped as “spectacular” and “dramatic” by NBC. There is no word of who will light the Olympic fire, but an expected TV audience of 3.5 billion people will be tuning in to find out. Part of the opening ceremonies will pay tribute to the victims and rescue workers from the Sept. 11 attacks. The tattered United States flag recovered from the World Trade Center will be carried into the ceremonies by “athletes and heroes” and taken to a flagpole as part of the processional, according to NBC and the International Olympic Committee. The IOC had originally decided to exclude the flag from the opening ceremonies but changed that decision on Wednesday.After the glamour and emotion of the opening ceremonies has subsided, there will be plenty of other events to occupy your time and keep you entertained. NBC will air 375 hours of Olympic coverage on its networks (NBC, MSNBC, CNBC), including performances by some of the biggest artists in music. The Hallmark Olympic Celebration Concert Series runs from Feb. 9 through 25 and will feature performances from Dave Matthews Band, on Feb. 9; Foo Fighters, on Feb.11; Macy Gray, on Feb.12; Brooks & Dunn, on Feb. 16; Creed, on Feb.19; Alanis Morissette, on Feb. 21; *NSYNC, on Feb. 23; Martina McBride, on Feb. 24; and other notables such as Smash Mouth, Train, Goo Goo Dolls, and Nelly Furtado. NBC will air the performances during its late night coverage (11:05 p.m to 12:35 a.m.), which will also include medal ceremonies and highlights of the day. Concerts aside, the main entertainment at the Olympics is sports, and the Winter Games feature everything from snowboarding to ice hockey to curling, my personal favorite. The first sport to air after the opening ceremonies will be the qualifying round of the K90 ski jump competition, but the action will pick up beginning Feb. 9 with the first full day of competition featuring freestyle skiing and figure skating on NBC and three preliminary round men’s hockey games on CNBC.There are several marquee sports being anticipated by fans and hyped by NBC (though sadly, curling isn’t one of them.) Figure skating always pulls in huge ratings and is being driven this year by six-time U.S champion and four-time world champion Michelle Kwan. Figure skating runs throughout the games, with the high-profile individual programs taking place near the end.The men’s ice hockey competition will feature the best players in the NHL and will mark the first time the U.S. team has skated on home ice since the much fabled “Miracle On Ice” during the 1980 games in Lake Placid, N.Y. The U.S. hasn’t won a hockey medal since Lake Placid, and Salt Lake City would be the perfect place to return to the medal stand. The novelty of having professionals compete in the Olympics still carries some intrigue, particularly in hockey, and the NHL is hoping for big excitement and even bigger ratings. The U.S. men’s first game is Feb. 15 against Finland and will be broadcast starting at 9:30 p.m. The U.S. women can skate pretty well themselves and will be looking to repeat their gold-medal winning performance from 1998. Other competitions that should provide worthwhile entertainment include snowboarding, freestyle skiing, luge, ski jumping, bobsledding and, of course, curling. (The first U.S. match is against Sweden on Feb. 11 at 4:15 p.m. on MSNBC).Security for the Olympics is at an all-time high due to the terrorist attacks and will no doubt be mentioned by the media throughout the games. The Olympic closing ceremonies will take place Feb. 24 (tickets are still available if you have an extra $900). For complete information about the games, check out http://www.olympics.com.

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