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It's official, for all to see. The celebrated white Olympic flag with the five coloured rings now flies over the city, a symbol of what awaits Vancouver in four years when it holds the 2010 Winter Games.

The large flag took its place yesterday atop the 80-foot flagpole at city hall on an appropriately chilly day, as clouds lifted off the snow-capped North Shore mountains.

"After 10 years of dreaming, the flag is finally ours, the Games are ours, and the best is yet to come," said Vancouver Olympics chief John Furlong.

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"The flag reminds us that for ever more, we will be an Olympic city."

When a gust of wind caught the flag two-thirds of the way up the pole and it unfurled to full size for the first time, a large cheer erupted from the large, appreciative crowd. Then the sun came out.

Lifelong Vancouver resident Lilian Amiel, 73, said the moment brought tears to her eyes.

"I can't believe it's actually happening. It's here. It's real," Ms. Amiel said.

"The Olympics are not something everyone gets to witness, and this does bring the world to Vancouver. I'm really looking forward to it."

In addition to Mr. Furlong, officials on hand for the ceremony included Councillor Carleen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh native group, provincial Olympics minister Colin Hansen, and Mayor Sam Sullivan, who has emerged as something of a hero for the aplomb with which he managed to wave the Olympic flag from his wheelchair during the closing ceremonies in Turin.

Noticeably absent, however, was anyone from the federal government, which Olympic organizers are asking for an additional $55-million to meet their rising construction costs.

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The federal minister responsible for the 2010 Olympics is David Emerson. A spokesman for the embattled politician, who defected to the Tories just days after the Jan. 23 election, said he was in Ottawa.

The flag is a nylon replica of the historic, two-metre by three-metre silk flag from the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo that has since been passed from host city to host city.

The Oslo flag will be put on display in a glass case at city hall after a dedication ceremony on March 9 attended by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean.

Mr. Sullivan said that receiving the Olympic flag from the mayor of Turin before the eyes of the world on Sunday was one of the most thrilling moments of his life.

"To think that flag will now be flying over Vancouver is truly, truly wonderful. When the world does come to Vancouver, we are going to be very proud of what we show them."

Colin Chin brought his 11-year old daughter Alexandra to the ceremony.

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"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted her to see it," the 47-year old realtor said. "You don't really appreciate something like the Olympic Games, until you actually have them. I am very proud to be part of this."

Asked what part of the Games she liked, Mr. Chin's diminutive daughter replied, shyly: "I like to watch the skeleton."

A number of protesters also showed up, carrying signs slamming the decision to build a section of the revamped highway to Whistler through an area known as Eagleridge Bluffs north of West Vancouver.

Ms. Amiel, the 73-year old, did not have much time for them. "I used to hike where their homes are now," she sniffed.

Speaking to reporters after the flag-raising, Mr. Sullivan said that having the five rings flying over the city symbolizes that Vancouver is part of the proud tradition of the Olympic Games.

"It means the attention of the world will be on us for the next four years. There's a sense of finality, now, and how we handle ourselves will brand this city forever."

Meanwhile, the hunt for Mr. Sullivan's missing wheelchair continued for much of yesterday.

The mayor, a quadriplegic, was separated -- not happily -- from the customized power wheelchair he used in Turin as he prepared to board a flight home.

The wheelchair, which contained a unique holster for the Olympic flag, was not on the plane that delivered him Monday night to Vancouver.

"That last I saw of it, they were taking it away and threatening to dismantle it into little parts," Mr. Sullivan told reporters from one of his old wheelchairs.

"All I know is that the chair is somewhere in Europe. I guess that chair loved Europe," he quipped. "We're trying to track it down."

Later in the day, the mayor's spokeswoman, Anna Lilly, said the chair had been located and put aboard a British Airways flight scheduled to arrive last evening.

"It's been upsetting for him. He's been uncomfortable all day."

On another matter, Mr. Furlong defended VANOC's eight-minute segment during the spectacular closing ceremonies from a flood of local criticism.

Many residents thought the production was flat, and said little about Vancouver, relying instead on clichéd images of Canada such as ice-fishing and snowmobiles.

One caller to a local radio show yesterday prefaced his complaint by saying: "I just came in from some ice-fishing. . ."

But Mr. Furlong said the $1.5-million production was about "conveying a message to the world, not to ourselves . . . that we are a fun-loving, winter-sports country. It was an invitation."

He added that the performers from Vancouver and Montreal had little rehearsal time, but the response on VANOC's website to the show had been overwhelmingly positive.

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