Pan Am Games opens

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - TORONTO

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.

CP PHOTO

Canada’s ath­letes wave as they take part dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, Fri­day.

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