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Olympic arch takes a bow

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Practicing opening and closing the stage curtain is not normally something done before a big show opens ? but when that curtain is a 30,000-pound retractile structure made of 96 panels, 13,000 steel rivets and 4,000 individual pieces, time is found for practice.

The 70-foot-wide, 35-foot-high Hoberman arch, which will open and close somewhat like half of the iris of an eye as a part of the nightly ceremonies on the Olympics Medals Plaza stage, ran smoothly during some of its first on-site practice runs Friday.

"I saw it when it was just a little model and I saw it when they were building it in New York, but to see it on site is really something," said Salt Lake Organizing Committee creative director Scott Givens. "It's pretty now, but once it's all ready and we have the lights behind it, it will be something else."

Lights will shine behind the translucent panels of the arch to visually symbolize "lighting the fire within," the Games' theme, Givens said.

The unusual arch is the creation of New York artist and engineer Chuck Hoberman, who has made a name for himself with his unique folding and unfolding kinetic sculptures and toys. Hoberman, who was on hand for the arch's Medals Plaza "unveiling," said he was excited to be there and to see everything working.

"I've done a lot of things before, but the Olympics is in its own strata, so I'm thrilled I'm to be a part of it," Hoberman said. "The arch is working even better than I envisioned. The speed and smoothness are great."

The arch took four months to design and four months to construct, Hoberman said. It was built in New Windsor, N.Y., by Scenic Technologies.

Hoberman said that like any other sane person, he worries about the arch and what could happen with the weather, but he remains confident no problems will arise.

"The project was designed and engineered to bring the risks under control," Hoberman said. "We anticipate the weather won't be a factor, and if the winds do happen to go above level, we'll put it up and it will stay there."

For Givens, the arch will help put a distinct Salt Lake stamp on the medals ceremony.

"We really wanted something enormous as a part of our presentation of the medals to the athletes," Givens said. "We wanted some signature things for the ceremony, and the arch is definitely one of them. "

After the medals ceremony every night, the Medals Plaza will host some of the biggest music acts in the nation, including Creed, Brooks and Dunn and the Dave Matthews Band. Four acts remain to be named by SLOC within a week.

After the Olympics, Hoberman said there are no plans for the arch ? but he wants to make sure "it doesn't end up in a Dumpster."

E-mail: pthunell@desnews.com