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Opening Ceremony

June 26, 2011

The opening ceremony was last night and today the competition itself is underway.  The opening ceremony is always a bit of an endurance test and this ceremony clocked in at 4 hours and with most people getting to the stadium an hour or more in advance it made for a long night for the 40,000 or so people in attendance.

Highlights of the elaborate ceremony include:

The parade of athletes, 180 countries, 10,000 athletes and coaches.  Their entrance alone took nearly two hours.  Traditionally the teams enter the stadium in alphabetical order and the home country entering last.  Typically the USA squad is one of the last to enter, but this year they were following the Greek alphabet and the US team entered in the middle of the line up to great fanfare.

The American team entered in “Loud Shorts” which pretty much describes them, while the Iranian team all wore suits.

A tribute to Eunice Shriver founder of the Special Olympics who died in 2009.  Eunice in Greek means “good victory,” and the video tribute was preceded by 12 International Global Messengers each telling their own persona; “good victory.” Some of my favorites was a young man from Florida who said his victory was being the best man in his brother’s wedding, another was when a woman said she got married this year.  A great moment was when the last Global Messenger spoke and began to stutter and the entire crowd began chanting his name in support.  He looked at the audience with great surprise and finished up just fine.

Tim Shriver gave a nice speech, wishing his mother could be there and saying that in Athens he feels like the Special Olympics is finally “home.”  As we learned at the press conference the catch phrase for these games is “I’m in.”  He began his speech with “I’m in,” and concluded telling the athletes and the world that if anyone asks about the “real “ Olympics to tell them these are the real Olympics.

Stevie Wonder played a nice set, sang a duet with Vanessa Williams and gave a nice little speech comparing Eunice to Martin Luther King and what this world would be like if there had not been a Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

The lighting of the cauldron is always exciting- personally we would have loved it had it come 90 minutes sooner.

Other notes….

For those who follow me on Twitter @wallflies you saw my tweet about the irony of the stadium being inaccessible to physically disabled people.  I was very concerned my parents couldn’t get into the stadium as most people walked, and the roads around the stadium were closed for a half mile in all directions, then, once in the stadium the steps were vertical, uneven and without handrails.  I was convinced my parents weren’t going to make it, but about 8:45 my dad called me and said they were in.  They convinced a cab driver to take alleys and back streets, he argued with police, and once at the stadium forced his way in- sat in the second row just to the right of the podium- so close they were able to read the teleprompter.

We also met a woman named Maureen Rabbitt who was in the media section with me blogging and tweeting all night long.  She was writing for Special Olympics Europe and Eurasia.  She is Irish and we had a nice chat about the Dublin games in 2003, “ne of our countries best moments,” she said.  I told her about Fly on a Wall, I hope she checks us out.

The Opening ceremony was broadcast live in Greece and around the world you can watch on ESPN3 in the USA.  I was disappointed that the NY Times didn’t cover it.

Besides the fact that their cameras are much better than mine is, the Special Olympics does guard its media rights pretty closely, so here are some here are some photos the press office issued from the Opening Ceremonies last night.

I hope to have some of my own video posted soon, check back regularly.

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