Taking part in the opening ceremony
You didn't have to be an athlete to take part in the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games.
Organisers brought a giant polar bear to life and made steam spout from whales which crossed the BC Place arena floor, while ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky helped the Olympic flame to its new home, a flickering maple leaf burning with the ambition of an expectant Canadian nation.
But the 60,000 fans inside the arena waving miniature Canadian flags did not have to sit on their hands and watch the three-hour spectacle unfold.
They - and I - became our own sound and light show, integral to the pictures beamed around the world as a long, tragic day in Olympic history ended on a resilient note.
Setting off for the ceremony just hours after the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training crash, I found it hard to imagine how I could enjoy any celebration, even the launch of an Olympic Games.
And there were regular reminders throughout the evening that what is so often called the Olympic family is mourning a loss.
As a minute's silence in Kumaritashvili's honour fell over the crowd, a tiny row of lights gleamed among the seated Olympic athletes.
Then, one by one, fans around the stadium lit their own electronic lights - provided by organisers to help create dazzling effects all night - as a show of support.
It was an impromptu show of unity, respect and fraternity which no hastily-organised tribute could have matched.
And it came from a crowd whose enthusiasm for the Winter Games remained undimmed despite the horrible events at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
The buzz on the way into the arena had to be seen to be believed. It felt like one long street party as we wound through the heaving city centre, then fought like Canadian salmon heading upstream as thousands of ticket-holders bustled past in search of the right entrance.
Once finally inside, we found we had arrived in time for the "pre-show", which turned out to be a mass training session ahead of one of the most innovative ceremonies on this scale to ever have been staged.
Each member of the crowd had been handed an octagonal cardboard container - a pizza box, to you and me - inside which were a selection of goodies.
(At this point it has to be said I only got my hands on one since at least a hundred Olympic delegates failed to take their seats in front of our camera position. Which, frankly, is an appalling waste when you see the fun other families were having with their night.)
The kit for each audience member contained:
Drum beater to be used on the box itself. Take the beater out, close the lid, and you have a tom-tom with which to sound your approval.
Torch with a translucent sticker over the bulb to change the colour. Used to illuminate the stadium and create a "Northern Lights" effect.
Electronic candle to be waved in the air in imitation of "fan leaders", volunteers charged with coordinating the movements of the crowd.
White cape to enhance the effectiveness of the arena lights and transform the crowd in to the background of the ceremony.
Fans (left) and yours truly (right) don their capes and prepare to welcome the Games. Photos: AP/BBC
When put together and wielded by tens of thousands of Olympic fanatics, these four articles created an interactive experience that rewarded the faith Canadians have shown in their home Games.
"I was expecting it to be completely lame," said Catherine Monk, a Vancouver resident sat next to me at the ceremony. "But it wasn't anywhere near as lame as I was imagining.
"I thought the flashlights were highly effective. The participatory element worked and I love any ceremony that lets you use a drum - it allows everybody to engage."
Rob Walker, from New Brunswick on Canada's east coast, told me he had even more reason than most to stay gripped by proceedings.
"My girlfriend is one of the fiddlers who actually performed on the stage, and from the moment she woke up today she's been extremely excited," he said.
"It was everything I expected it would be, and I sat through some of the rehearsals as well. It's a dream come true for her and it will be incredibly hard to top this.
"The box we were given was fantastic, it added a little bit of excitement for those of us in the crowd and helped pass the time during some of the slower parts."
And I'd be taking you for a fool if I told you the ceremony was a relentless adrenaline rush. Everybody knows an Olympic opening ceremony is going to mean a procession of thousands of athletes, and the initially-vibrant communal drumming of the crowd had slowed to a polite patter by the time Liechtenstein made their entrance, let alone Uzbekistan.
But the highs of this extravaganza dramatically outweighed and outshone the lows.
Mesmeric light shows put on by members of the crowd themselves, technical innovations that let participants dance with heels of fire while polar bears erupt from the floor, all manner of wire acrobatics as people descended from the ceiling, and a sense of style, history and privilege made this a ceremony of which Canadians should be, and are, proud.
Gretzky, the living embodiment of Canadian passion for ice hockey and a man at the front of the queue to see them win hockey gold here, was the last man to light his torch as the Olympic flame finally ended its journey.
But just as that cauldron now burns bright in downtown Vancouver, so all of us at the Games keep a candle burning for Nodar Kumaritashvili.
"Carry his Olympic dream on your shoulders," said chief Vancouver organiser John Furlong as the Games were declared open. The dreams of thousands of athletes and millions of Canadians can now be realised in earnest.