Pan Am Games opens
Weeks of nonchalance gave way to excitement and pride Friday as thousands descended on downtown Toronto for the Pan American Games opening ceremony, officially kicking off the largest international multi- sport competition ever held in Canada.
Hordes of people carrying — and often wearing — flags from more than a dozen countries packed into the Rogers Centre, temporarily renamed the Pan Am Ceremonies Venue, for the sold-out show.
The thrill of seeing both her native country and her adopted one perform was almost too much to bear for Margarita Caropresi, 53, who came to Canada from Mexico 17 years ago.
“I haven’t been able to sleep for a week,’’ said Caropresi, who brought a small Mexican flag, beaded necklaces in the country’s colours and a pendant that includes both the Canadian and Mexican flags.
“This is a big thing in Latin America. Here it’s just like another game, but not for us _ it’s the Pan Am. So we celebrate this as a serious thing. It’s kind of like the home Olympics.’’
Robergo de Olivera, 39, came from Brazil to volunteer for the Games and said the chance to cheer for his country was “a dream come true.’’
“Maybe I’ll cry too,’’ he said. “Because it’s emotional to see your country from outside. When you live there, you don’t feel the same, but when you go outside, you feel proud, because they represent you outside.’’
Hometown pride was also in full force, with the crowd a sea of red and white. Some draped themselves in the Maple Leaf, while others opted for “Canada’’ shirts and hats.
Alison Eacock, who arrived hours early with a large Canadian flag, said the opening ceremony was the one Pan Am event she couldn’t miss.
“Just to see all the athletes coming in, that’s going to be really exciting,’’ she said.
Flagbearer and veteran canoe paddler Mark Oldershaw led a massive Canadian athlete contingent _ more than 700 will compete at these Games _ into the stadium.
The ceremony kicked off with a gravity- daring stunt from Olympic gold medallist Donovan Bailey in a pre-taped bit that depicted members of Canada’s gold medal-winning 1996 4x100- metre relay team trotting the torch around Toronto and eventually to the top of the CN Tower. Bailey was the last to receive the flame and promptly base- jumped off the 553-metre-high structure, parachuting onto the roof of the dome. The star sprinter then appeared in the stadium, descending from the ceiling.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, joined by Governor General David Johnston, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and other dignitaries, was among some 45,000 spectators in the domed stadium.
The prime minister stopped by the athletes village Friday afternoon to show his support for Canadian athletes. Dressed in a black tracksuit with “Canada’’ emblazoned on the back, Harper shook hands with several athletes then led the group in a “Go Canada’’ cheer.
Earlier Friday, the head of the Games organizing committee said if the event goes well, it could set the stage for the city to make another Olympic bid.
“If we do a good job, we’ll have the option of having Olympics; if we don’t do a good job and if the city doesn’t respond, we will not have that option,’’ David Peterson told a news conference.
Except for a large stadium, all of the facilities would be in place for an Olympic Games in the next 10 or 20 years, Peterson added.
“The timelines on these things are very long,’’ he said.
Canada’s athletes wave as they take part during the opening ceremony of the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, Friday.