Winter Olympics begin today, Pakistan making debut

VANCOUVER: Years of planning come to a head on Friday when the Vancouver Winter Olympics get underway, culminating a long slog for organisers who are confident there will be no major dramas despite unseasonably warm weather.

Pakistan is taking part in one of the events skieng - for the first time in the Winter Olympics. as skier Mohammad Abbas

Excitement is building in this waterfront city, routinely voted the most livable in the world, as more than 60,000 people prepare to witness first-hand the Olympic cauldron being lit in BC Place stadium during the opening ceremony.

An estimated worldwide television audience of three billion are expected to watch the Games, the third in Canada after the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, which left the city mired in huge debt for years, and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

About 2,500 athletes from more 82 nations will take part in the February 12-28 showpiece, but it hasn''t been a completely smooth ride.

As the clock ticks down, organisers continue to battle warm weather in Vancouver and on nearby Cypress Mountain, the host of the freestyle events.

Tonnes of snow have had to be driven and helicoptered in from higher elevations, with the last-minute rush continuing right up till Friday.

There are no such problems at Whistler, site of the blue-riband alpine skiing events, although there is a good chance of fog becoming an issue.

Eleven venues are being used from BC Place in Vancouver where the opening and closing ceremonies are held, to Canada Hockey Place, which hosts the bulk of ice hockey and where the home nation starts as men''s gold medal favourites,

In all, 15 sports will be contested with Germany and Canada the bookmakers'' favourites to top the medal table, with the United States, South Korea and Japan also challenging.

The overall Winter Games costs top two billion Canadian dollars (1.65 billion US), with the city of Vancouver having to step in last year and provide funding for the 875 million dollar Athletes Village.

From Pakistan, Mohammad Abbas belonging to Pakistan Air Force is participating in the Winter Olympics.