Meryl, Charlie, and the parents head into Canada's "exuberant" arms

Michigan athletes thrill to Olympics' Opening Ceremony
Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

Vancouver, British Columbia -- Canada is exuberant in its open-arms welcoming of the world to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and the contingent of athletes and families from Michigan clearly shares the joy.

And forget about any sense at all that the Opening Ceremony is mere choreography before the real business begins. The Michiganians say the gathering of the world and the promenading of its athletes on the Vancouver waterfront Friday did much to demonstrate the true nature of athletic endeavor and accomplishment on a grand scale.

"Having a child in the opening ceremonies is just an unbelievable experience for me," said Jacqui White, of Bloomfield Hills, mother of U.S. champion ice dancer Charlie White, who traveled with Cheryl Davis, mother of White's partner, Meryl Davis, of West Bloomfield.

"Originally, Cheryl and I were going to stay home and come just before the kids' first skate. But a friend at U.S. Figure Skating said, 'Well, if you do that, you will regret it. Years from now, you will be so sorry. It will be a moment you'll never forget.'

"It is when it really sinks in and hits you," she said. "The enjoyment of watching them grow up and skate. It did not make sense not being here for something that important."

For Mark Grimmette of Muskegon, the enthusiasm is doubled. Grimmette, a five-time Olympian, was named the flag bearer for the United States.

He said his luge partner, Brian Martin, delivered the word.

"When Brian came out of the room, he was walking up to me and I looked up and saw he was shaking a bit, and he was smiling, and he said, 'You are going to carry the flag,' " Grimmette said. "I was pretty floored.

"I dreamed about being in the Olympics when I was younger. And, after being in the Olympics, I certainly dreamed about carrying the flag. ... But with the amount of great people that are on this Olympic team, I didn't think that I had a chance."
Arnold fever

The Olympics still seem the one athletic stage on which the luster of pure athletic endeavor is difficult to tarnish.

There is some talk of doping, certainly. But some innocence remains, and it registers in the words and emotions of those from Michigan.

Even the death of a Georgian luge athlete Friday and the shroud or fog that is making the skiing events tough to schedule, failed to dim the mood.

Friday began with a wild scene in Stanley Park, a Vancouver landmark, where California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and dozens of onlookers were nearly crushed amid a throng that struggled to see him. As dangerous as the incident was, it was a product of the unbridled enthusiasm with which the Canadians are hosting the Games.

They are even laughing off the rain, in some circles.

"What do you expect?" one television commentator said. "It's Vancouver."
The time arrives

The athletes say the pageantry of the Opening Ceremony marks yet another stage in their continual striving.

"I'm just really happy to be here, and to get started," said speedskater Jilleanne Rookard of Woodhaven.

Rookard's years of training were punctuated by caring for her mother, who died in December. Rookard speaks frequently of the satisfaction of being able to tell her dying mother she is an Olympian and of the financial struggles that accompanied her quest.

"Now it's time to get started," she said.

For others, the Ceremony is beyond a pinch-me moment.

"It's what you dream about, it's what you work for, through the years," said Michelle Rzepka, a women's bobsledder from Novi, who is favored to win a medal.

Rzepka was recruited by U.S. bobsledding officials after years of pole vaulting.

"For me, bobsled is a continuation of my athletic career," she said. "And to feel this, now that I am an Olympic athlete -- it's something I will always be proud to say, 'I am an Olympic athlete.' "

The moment of beginning the competition for which all have trained for much of their lives can be an awesome experience.

"It's hard to fully grasp that the opening ceremonies are actually here," ice dancer Meryl Davis said. "For us, along with so many other athletes, these Games have been much anticipated for a long time.

"It's kind of surreal. And we're so excited and honored to be representing our country in a sport we're so passionate about."

Back home, Davis' father, Paul, said he would absorb the moments of the Opening Ceremony before traveling to Vancouver to watch the Games.

"I can tell you every time I hear the music of the Olympic theme, I choke up," Paul Davis said. "I'm just so happy for my daughter.

"In addition to the athletic achievement of the Games, she is fascinated by foreign languages and cultures (Meryl Davis majors in cultural anthropology and minors in Italian at Michigan). She will enjoy the Olympic Village more than anyone."


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