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Irish fly flag but Winter Olympic opening is tinged with sadness

IRELAND team members took part in the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympic Games last night.

The team, including bobsleigh medal hopefuls Aoife Hoey (25) and Claire Bergin (26), participated in the glittering ceremony for the 21st Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge opened the games -- but they have been overshadowed by the earlier death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Mr Rogge wore a black tie and the Canadian and Olympic flags were lowered to half-mast in honour of Kumaritashvili, who died following a crash on a training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The Georgian flag included a black fringe and their team members wore black stripes. The Georgian National Olympic Committee had earlier confirmed their seven athletes would compete.

Large screens declared that the ceremony would be dedicated to Kumaritashvili, and the Georgian team were given a standing ovation when they marched into the stadium.

Mr Rogge prefaced the opening speeches by saying: "It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the tragic loss of Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Georgian team, who passed away this morning in a training accident on the luge track. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, team-mates and country."

The Whistler Sliding Centre track is now closed for an investigation to determine the cause of the tragic accident.

A snowboarder had slid down a specially designed ramp and jumped through the Olympic rings to herald the start of the ceremony at the 60,000-capacity BC Place.

Canadian Paralympian Rick Hansen carried the torch into the stadium at the end of a record-breaking 30,000-mile, 106-day trip across the country and four athletes, including ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, lit the flame simultaneously.

Gretzky arried the torch outside for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron and was seen on screens in the stadium.