New Zealand : Let the Games begin

Opening-ceremony_1.jpg

It’s been a long time coming for the athletes, their families, their coaches and the management team but the 2011 World Summer Games finally got underway in spectacular fashion in Athens, Greece on Saturday evening (local time).

On a beautiful summer evening in the Greek capital, the New Zealand delegation, including 35 athletes and support staff, entered the Panathinaiko Stadium to huge cheers from the crowd in the 45,000 seater stadium. Known by the Greeks as Kallimarmaro (which means beautifully marbled), the historic stadium was the venue for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

The New Zealand team made the most of their moment in the spotlight, high-fiving Games volunteers as they strutted down the 100m catwalk that ran the length of the arena before taking their seats on the marble steps.

“They were a little bit overawed by it,” said Rob Torrance the Head of Delegation for the New Zealand team. “I think the athletes weren’t expecting the big cheer they got and they were very excited to see so many Kiwi flags in the crowd.”

“It was incredible, like nothing else I’ve ever experienced in my life. I can’t even describe it,” said Manawatu athlete Ryan Smith. “I knew it was going to be something enthralling, but I didn’t think it was going to be that big and grand a spectacle. The biggest highlight was walking into the stadium and being cheered to our seats by athletes from hundreds of countries. And when Stevie Wonder sang my favourite song, Superstition.”

The soul singing legend had the more than 7000 athletes from 180 countries on their feet dancing and singing along, in a ceremony that lasted well into the early hours of the morning.

“We didn’t get back to our digs at the Games Village until 4am,” said Torrance, “and Andrew Oswin (a Canterbury athlete) had to be up to compete in the shot put this morning at 9am. The team are doing remarkably well because they’ve only had a couple of hours sleep. They are remarkably upbeat and I’m just proud of how the team has got on with things.”

Ryan Smith is a good example of how well the athletes are coping.

“We didn’t get a lot of sleep,” he said. “The most I got was 3 hours 15 minutes, no more than that, but the Opening Ceremony was worth it. I’m just bummed out that I can’t compete today. I’ve been training for this for two years.”

Torrance says the whole New Zealand team is ready and rearing to go despite some issues with the organisation leading up to the start of competition.

“There have been some teething problems and issues with food and transport but they’ll get it right. There have been some complaints about buses not turning up but it happens at every Games.”

“We had a fabulous time in Rhodes (the host town for New Zealand before the Games). They looked after us very, very well. The accommodation was lovely, they couldn’t do enough for us and everyone was very friendly and helpful and trying to do their best and that’s continued on.”

New Zealand athletes will compete in seven sports over the next week (athletics, aquatics, basketball, bowling, equestrian, golf and powerlifting) before the Closing Ceremony on 4 July 2011.

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