One of the most popular stars of the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team took part in the Paralympic torch relay on Thursday, but organizers say the real stars will be the Paralympians themselves when the Games open in Vancouver on Friday.
Vancouver Canucks goalie and Olympic gold-medal winner Roberto Luongo lit a ceremonial cauldron as part of a special 24-hour Paralympic torch relay at Robson Square.
Luongo — or Lou, as he is known to his legions of fans — joined around 300 other torchbearers who will carry the torch around a two-block loop for 24 hours, just as the final rehearsal for the opening ceremony got underway at BC Place.
After the 24-hour event ends on Friday morning, the torch will continue its more linear journey, travelling by boat with adaptive rowing team, a SeaKing helicopter, and two navy ships and a Zodiac boat before arriving at BC Place.
Stars line up for opening ceremony
Organizers say Friday's opening ceremony for the 2010 Paralympic Games will once again put Canada on the international stage.
The show will involve some big-name Canadian artists, said producer Patrick Roberge in an interview with The Canadian Press.
There will also be familiar elements like the flag-raising and the athletes' parade, but Roberge said he hopes the athletes are the true stars.
The cast of 5,000 for Friday's show includes performers with disabilities wearing specially modified costumes that take into account the equipment they use to get around.
"You will see people in the show that do amazing things, amazing acts of ability and that is going to be part of the inspiration of the show," he said.
"That moment that they arrive in the stadium is the moment of truth," he said, adding that he's consulted Paralympians about what elements of the show are important to them.
"It is the moment that these Paralympians went 'Yes, I've made it. I've done it. I'm here,' and that connection with the audience is so critical."
"We want to inspire the world Canadian-style but we also want to inspire the Paralympians," he said.
"We hope that the celebratory tone of our ceremony will send them out of here incredibly enthusiastic."
The biggest challenge hasn't been working around their needs or those of athletes, he said, though some changes have been made to the stadium to accommodate them, such as getting rid of the stairs leading to their seats.
Roberge had to deal with a stadium off-limits for the last couple of months and being unable to hold rehearsals during the Olympics themselves.
It's meant 17-hour days for him since the Olympics ended Feb. 28, and jamming two months of rehearsals into the last seven days.
"Our show captures the contemporary vibrancy of the city of Vancouver as well as B.C., but we also have performers from across the country and we sort of celebrate the general Canadian pride that we have from coast to coast."
There will also be multiple cauldrons lit, including an outdoor one on the Vancouver waterfront and in Whistler, B.C.
As for the cauldron inside BC Place, it will use the same mechanism as the one from the Olympics, which malfunctioned during the opening ceremony.
"We're going to be doing it a little bit differently," said Roberge.
While the budget for both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics was $38 million, the total budget for all Paralympic ceremonies is just under $6 million.
Roberge, who is based in Vancouver, will also produce the closing ceremony, which will be held outdoors in Whistler, B.C.
No live broadcast
Those who do not have tickets to the ceremony at BC Place will have to wait until Saturday to watch it on television because of broadcast delay.
Although the International Paralympic Movement asks organizers to try and have the opening ceremony broadcast live, the CTV-Rogers broadcast consortium has said it will air it on tape delay.
A consortium official told The Canadian Press the choice to tape delay was due to contracts for other programming that couldn't be broken for the show.
But Roberge said the ceremony isn't about the television show or even the celebrities who will perform.
"It's more about the collective experience we want the entire audience and the cast to connect and be incredibly inspired," he said.
"We want our audience to be on their feet cheering or waving their arms, we want to pick up where the Olympics left off and catch that Canadian pride once again because I believe that Canada is a country that is more prepared to welcome the Paralympians than any other country of the world."