By Paul Radford

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Vancouver Olympics began inauspiciously but ultimately triumphed through adversity to emerge as one of the most enjoyable Winter Games in living memory.

The worried frown etched on the face of Games chief John Furlong in the troubled opening days of the 17-day sporting extravaganza had turned into a gigantic smile as the Olympics drew to an emotional close on Sunday.

In the end, three factors combined to overcome a potentially disastrous start -- the organizers' determination to correct their early mistakes, some sustained and sparkling sporting action and, above all, the spirit of the people of Canada.

Canadians overcame their natural reserve and came out to celebrate their Games with infectious enthusiasm, welcoming overseas competitors and visitors with genuine warmth.

They filled the stadiums and the streets of Vancouver and the mountain resort of Whistler, they cheered, they sang, they celebrated, they greeted. And they were great.

Yet it had all began so badly with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training accident just hours before the opening ceremony, a tragedy which will, sadly, forever cast a shadow over the Vancouver Games.

The problems were soon piling up.

A major glitch prevented the Olympic cauldron from fully deploying at the opening ceremony, a lack of snow meant thousands of ticket holders could not attend some freestyle skiing and snowboarding events, and the mild, wet weather conditions disrupted the early Alpine ski races.

Transport services began erratically and a major row broke out when Canadians arriving to see the Olympic flame burning on Vancouver's waterfront found it hidden behind a big security fence.

The Canadian media were soon attacking Games' organizers and some sections of the foreign press joined in and labeled it the most disastrous Winter Olympics ever.

Some started calling it the Spring Olympics because of the un-wintry weather.

The verdicts all proved premature. For a Spring Olympics, this one certainly had plenty of bounce.


The sun came out for the best part of a week and it shone on a Games which suddenly blossomed as Canadians found new heroes and celebrated an unsuspected record gold medal haul, finishing with 14, a figure never reached before by any other nation at a Winter Games.

The barometer rose and fell with the Canadian men's ice hockey team, which like the Games, had a stuttering start before triumphing, first eliminating Russia and then going right through to a successful final showdown with neighbors and arch-rivals the United States.

Canada's single-minded passion for ice hockey was taken up by neutrals who enthusiastically joined in the ever wilder celebrations.

But, in the end, it was two athletes who picked up special awards for inspirational performances who best symbolized the Vancouver Olympics.

Slovenian cross country skier Petra Majdic fell and broke several ribs before picking herself up and winning a bronze medal.

Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette also won bronze despite the sudden death of her mother the two days before her competition started.

Triumph through adversity indeed.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)