Every four years, athletes, coaches and volunteers from around New Zealand travel to the Special Olympics National Summer Games. For 2013, Dunedin has the privilege of hosting the Games, which have attracted almost 1170 athletes from 46 provincial teams competing in 10 different sports.
The Games started off with a bang on Wednesday 27 November, with Opening Ceremony in the morning. All 46 teams made their way into the arena one by one. The sheer number of athletes soon became apparent as the teams filed in.
The Special Olympics Otago team was accompanied by bagpipes, and received thunderous applause. Ian McKelvie, Special Olympics New Zealand's Chairman, said that the experience showed the “dedication, and enjoyment” of the athletes – everything that makes the Games so unique.
Grant and Wendy Quinn, the founders of Special Olympics New Zealand spoke about the organisation’s beginnings 30 years ago, and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Following the many welcomes, introductions and announcements, several performance groups took to the stage to further introduce and welcome the beginning of the Games.
Among these performers was singer-songwriter Sarah Conlan, who won the Special Olympics New Zealand National Summer Games Theme Song Contest, which challenged participants to write and perform an original theme-song for the Summer Games. Sarah performed her song 'Soaring High' on stage near the end of the ceremony.
Conlan said that performing at the Opening Ceremony was “amazing…it’s a rare opportunity for musicians to perform in front of such an enthusiastic crowd”.
Conlan is staying to watch the Games, and will be performing at the Closing Ceremony.
Among the other performers were community-based Taiko Japanese Drumming Group, which performed a medley. This had been practiced at some smaller events, but “the performance at the Summer Games was the ultimate goal”.
"The Opening Ceremony was awesome, we really feed off the crowd’s energy and this is one of the best energies we’ve ever had," said one of the drummers.
Highlights from our athletes and volunteers:
Accompanied by Police Commissioner, Global Messenger Chris Wylie gave the Athletes' Oath, “let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”. The Athletes' Oath was originally spoken by Roman Gladiators entering the arena. Special Olympics selects an athlete to recite the Oath ahead of each Games to remind all of the athletes that they are part of sporting tradition, and that their goal is to compete to the best of their ability.
Matt Aitken, Otago athlete and Global Messenger spoke at the Opening Ceremony, stating that it was “a privilege to have everybody here in our Special Olympics community”. When spoken to after the ceremony, Matt said that he thought it was a great Opening Ceremony, and that it was "cool to see so many people here". Matt also mentioned that he was really looking forward to catching up with everybody.
Athlete Lynette Doolan from Manawatu said that she “really enjoyed the Maori Haka performance and the entrance of the Flame of Hope”. Lynette said that her teammate Hamish was one of the athletes who had the opportunity to carry the Flame of Hope around the arena.
Volunteer Cade Bedford said his highlight of the Opening Ceremony was when the Otago team walked in and the stands were shaking from all of the stomping and cheering. Cade also thought that the entrance of the Flame of Hope was fantastic as it united the teams together.