And as the Georgian team strode calmly onto the arena floor Friday night, not 12 hours removed from the loss of one of their own in a horrific crash on the luge track, they were greeted not by raucous cheers but by respectful applause.
Olympic dignitaries and competitors stood in salute. The crowd of more than 50,000 suspended the nightlong celebration to pay a muted tribute. For a moment, the opening ceremony, perhaps the most exuberant spectacle in sports, became a somber remembrance.
The death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, who lost control of his sled, flew over the wall and slammed into a steel pole
- on a course that athletes had warned was dangerous - cast a shadow of grief over the start of an already troubled games.
There were several pauses to pay respect to the first athlete killed at the Winter Olympics in 18 years.
"It is with great sadness that we acknowledge this tragic loss," IOC president Jacques Rogge told a crowd that minutes earlier had been cheering a pageant of fireworks and acrobatics.
Vancouver organizing chief John Furlong encouraged athletes to carry the luger's "Olympic dream on your shoulders, and compete with his spirit in your heart."
Kumaritashvili was the fourth Winter Olympian to lose his life at the games, all of them in training, and the first since the 1992 Albertville Games. Death also haunted the last games hosted by Canada
- in 1988, when an Austrian team doctor fell under a snow machine in Calgary.
The Georgians decided to stay and compete despite the tragedy, dedicating their performances to Kumaritashvili. The athletes "decided to be loyal to the spirit of the Olympic Games," said Nikolos Rurua, Georgia's minister of culture and sport.
Organizers dedicated the entire opening ceremony to the 21-year-old slider, and faced the difficult task of balancing the shock with the traditionally upbeat atmosphere of the opening ceremony.
The change in tone was unmistakable.
"When we get here, we're all part of the same family," American snowboarding star Shaun White said. "It's definitely affected everyone here."
In addition to the black armbands and scarves, the Georgian delegation draped its flag
- a red cross against a white field, with smaller crosses in each of the four corners, carried by skier Iason Abramashvili
- in black ribbon.
The mood stood in contrast to the rest of the ceremony. It opened with a gleeful countdown by the fans and a snowboarder who hurtled through the five suspended Olympic rings as fireworks glittered.
Earlier in the day, news of the crash in Whistler filtered down from the mountains as the Olympic flame was still making its way past cheering crowds through the downtown streets of Vancouver.
Visibly shaken, Rogge told a press conference: "I have no words to say what we feel."
"Here you have a young athlete that lost his life in pursuing his passion," he said. "He had a dream to participate in the Olympic Games. He trained hard and he had this fatal accident."
Rushing down the track, Kumaritashvili had taken the next-to-last curve at an unusually high path, then slid down the wall with his feet pointed the wrong way. As he hit the corner entering the final straightaway with his body, he was knocked off his sled and shot across the track, arms and legs flailing.
Less than a second later, Kumaritashvili's upper body struck a steel post in place to hold up a metal roof along the end of the track. He came to rest on a metal walkway, his left leg in the air and left foot propped atop the track wall.
Rescue workers got to him within seconds and began lifesaving efforts, but Kumaritashvili died shortly afterward at a nearby hospital.
The track is known as probably the fastest in the world, and Kumaritashvili was traveling at nearly 90 mph before he crashed.
"It is a nervous situation," Latvian luge federation president Atis Strenga said after the crash. "I hope, we all hope, it's the first accident and the last accident in this race."