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Opening ceremony secrecy breached by iPhone sneak peeks

Thu, 02/11/2010 - 11:51am

(Reuters) - The traditional shroud of secrecy around Olympic opening ceremonies has some gaping holes in this age of digital downloads and social networking.

The 2010 Winter Games open on Friday night in Vancouver's BC Place arena, the first ever indoor opening ceremony in the history of Winter Olympics, and organizers are struggling to keep a lid on preparations to wow a worldwide audience as high as 3 billion people, according to their estimates.

Over 60,000 have attended two dress rehearsals this week, promising not to divulge details of the spectacle in keeping with Olympic tradition.

Confidentiality agreements are no match, however, for society's addiction to iPhones and Blackberrys, to Facebook and Twitter, to instant communication gratification.

"In this day and age where people can disseminate information internationally at the push of a button from anywhere ... it has been a real task trying to maintain confidentiality," said David Atkins, the Australian producer of the Vancouver opening and closing ceremonies.

Atkins also produced ceremonies for the Sydney Summer Games in 2000, when people had mobile phones, but could not do much with them other than make a call.

Now, phones not only take good quality photos, they also offer instant access to the Internet and fast messaging via 140-character "tweets."

Photos from Wednesday's dress rehearsal were on Twitter by nightfall and some traditional media were threatening to publish them before the International Olympic Committee reminded them of their signed confidentiality agreements.

'MARSHMALLOW IN BONDAGE'

Keeping the Olympic ceremony under wraps is meant to increase the "wow factor," a sensation that hit a new high at the spectacular opening of the Beijing Summer Games in 2008.

With Beijing a tough act to follow -- and one that may not be matched for years to come -- Vancouver organizers have doused down expectations.

Atkins has told viewers to expect more emotion than spectacle in the two-hour show under the souffle-like pressurized roof of the BC Place, lovingly referred to as a "Marshmallow in Bondage" by some locals.

Canada's opening ceremony will probably showcase its vast wilderness, its long winters, its fondness for cold-weather sports and maybe even its cutting-edge aerial acrobatics a la Cirque du Soleil, the famous Canadian troupe.

The native peoples in this country of around 33 million are also likely to get center stage as their cultures have shaped everything in these Games from the logo to the medals.

Despite all the leaks, one very big secret remains: who will be the Canadian to light the Olympic flame? Speculation ranges from ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky to an anonymous aboriginal athlete.

The flame, however, looks set to burn in two cauldrons: one in the stadium and one down by the waterfront.

A local television helicopter spotted what looked like a cauldron down near the media center -- much to the chagrin of Olympic organizers who cried foul.

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