Performance anxiety for Olympic cauldron

The Olympic cauldron is lit by Wayne Gretzky, left, Steve Nash, right, and Nancy Greene, back, as Catriona Le May Doan holds her torch at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Friday, Feb. 12, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

VANCOUVER - Call it a case of Olympic performance anxiety: at the climax of the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Games, part of the cauldron just couldn't rise to the occasion.

In what was supposed to be the showpiece moment of the opening ceremonies, four pillars were supposed to rise from the floor of B.C. Place stadium, each one carrying a flame up to light the Olympic cauldron.

One of the pillars, however, didn't seem all that excited by the prospect.

As Catriona Le May Doan, Steve Nash, Nancy Greene and Wayne Gretzky stood holding their Olympic torches, it became clear something was wrong.

Gretzky licked sweat off his top lip as he stood at the base of the cauldron, while B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell looked anxiously over the VIP balcony.

There was a quick blip in the music and then three of the four pillars finally began to rise.

Le May Doan was left to hold her ground as the others moved to the centre to touch their torches to the base of the pillars, sending the flame shooting up the sides to ignite the cauldron at the top.

Officials with the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee were quick to confirm it didn't go as planned.

"It may have been a hydraulic issue with the cauldron," said Renee Smith-Valade, a spokesperson for the organizing committee, adding the production team would address the issue at a later news conference.

However, she praised the ability of the final torchbearers to adapt to the situation.

"Catriona Le May Doan handled it very well," said Smith-Valade. "She saluted the audience as the other three athletes lit the cauldron."

Canadian women's hockey captain Hayley Wickenheiser, who was on hand to take the athlete's oath on behalf of her fellow competitors, noticed the malfunction but wasn't bothered by it.

"I didn't really want it (the ceremonies) to end, so I was kind of happy it didn't go up," Wickenheiser said.

"They had some glitches, but I don't think it took away at all. I think Catriona did a great job to improvise."

Ironically, the inside cauldron was only ever meant to burn for a few short hours. It was extinguished shortly before 10 p.m. PST, after the crowd had left the building.

Games organizers said they had always planned to have an external cauldron for the flame because the fabric roof of the stadium could not withstand the heat from the Olympic cauldron.

Gretzky left the ceremony carrying the final Olympic torch, taking it through downtown Vancouver to the city's waterfront to light an outdoor cauldron that will remain lit throughout the Games.