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Canada marks Olympic countdown with parties and fireworks

Canada marks Olympic countdown with parties and fireworks

VANCOUVER (AFP) - Canada launched the one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Olympics with celebrations, fireworks, and cultural displays across the country.

"We are in the last lap, the final bell toll today," said John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. "It is also a reminder of the road ahead and all the work we need to do to get completed."

In the ski resort of Whistler, organizers held an outdoor ceremony where they unveiled the torch that will be used to carry the Olympic flame in the torch relay and the design of the uniforms the torchbearers will wear.

In Toronto, there was outdoor skating and an ice dance demonstration by national figure skaters Andrew Poge and Kaitlyn Weaver. The pair finished fifth at the Four Continents Championships last week at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

"It gave us chills to know that we were competing in the exact spot the Olympics will take place." Poge said on Friday."

And in the nation's capital of Ottawa, Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean unveiled the torch at a breakfast function before hosting hundreds of Canadian children for a party at her official residence Rideau Hall.

"We are celebrating the one-year countdown now as hosts of the Games," Jean said. "We hoped to have a snow day for the kids but even with the rain, we are going to be outside snowshoeing.

"The Olympics will show the talent in this country. This is an opportunity to strengthen the sports system in Canada."

Canada's native Indians also took part in the festivities Thursday as the Haida Gwaii band in the province of British Columbia held a fireworks display.

The torch uniforms and design were officially unveiled in the outdoor main square in the ski resort town of Whistler. About 300 people watched under a light snowfall as torch bearer Caleb Taylor carried the sleek-designed torch up onto the main stage in Whistler which will be the site of the alpine, sliding, and ski jumping events.

"The torch represents a lot of things that are good about sports," Taylor said. "It brings the community together and will bring Canadians together."

Taylor said he would be carrying the torch on January 9 in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Taylor is one of 12,000 Canadians who will carry the torch 45,000 kilometres over 100 days, making it the longest torch relay within the host country.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge was on hand for the Whistler torch ceremony before travelling to Vancouver, where he met with a dozen Canadian sports federations.

Rogge also visited the recently completed Olympic speed skating oval to issue a formal invitation to the more than 80 countries and their athletes who will compete in Vancouver beginning February 12 next year.

"For the athletes around the world, the chance to compete next year will be their goal," Rogge said. "On behalf of the International Olympic Committee I would like to invite them to compete in Vancouver one year from now."

"The Olympic Games are returning to Canada 22 years after Calgary and 34 years after Montreal."

Speaking to about 1,200 invited guests at the 178 million Canadian dollar speed skating facility, Rogge was joined on stage by Furlong and Canadian Olympic speed skater Cindy Klassen, who won five medals the Turin Winter Games.

"The Vancouver Olympics are just one year away and what a dream it will be to compete at home," Klassen said.

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