World Summer Games Opening Ceremony leaves lasting mark on New Zealand Special Olympics athletes 

The New Zealand Special Olympics athletes and their support staff could hardly believe what they were witnessing at the Opening Ceremony for the World Summer Games in Berlin this morning.

The 39 athletes and their 22 support staff marched into the historic Olympiastadion along with 7000 athletes from 180 delegations to be welcomed by a boisterous crowd of 80,000, including several family members from New Zealand, for a spectacular Opening Ceremony show.

“As long as we all live, we will never forgot what we experienced here,” said Rowena Massey, Head of the New Zealand Delegation.

“Everything has just been next level at these games, so far, and the Opening Ceremony just blew everyone away.” 

The German hosts put on a stunning show of colour, dance and music that included a two-hour long parade of the participating team, starting as per tradition with the delegation of Greece, and finishing with the largest team at the games from the home nation of Germany. 

The biggest cheer however was reserved for the small delegation of Ukraine athletes who managed to attend despite the ravages of war in their home nation.

Footballer Conor McCarthy from Hutt Valley said the ceremony was “amazing” and like most of the 80,000 in the stadium decided the closing fireworks were “just awesome”.

Television viewers in nearly 200 countries, including New Zealand, witnessed the athletes march  into the same stadium where legendary American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games. 

Global broadcaster ESPN has committed a huge delegation to the games and will cover most events, including 20 cameras each at athletics and swimming. During the opening ceremony, the broadcaster interviewed Taranaki’s Melissa Cash and her uncle/coach Nigel who became the first Special Olympics athlete to attend the World Summer Games as an athlete and as coach.

German athlete Sophie Rensmann lights the Flame of Hope at the Opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games

Each country also brought a small sample of water from their home and bocce player Aaron Campbell from Horowhenua was invited to pour the Kiwi water into a river at the heart of the stadium to represent the unity between the nations.

The World Summer Games have grown from their modest start in 1983 to become the largest inclusive sports event on the planet with 7000 athletes competing across 26 sports, supported by 18,000 volunteers and over 300,000 fans. 

The New Zealand delegation will now be able to turn their attention to their competitions after a week-long training camp and Host Town festivities near Munich. To demonstrate just how close the team and their German hosts had become, two of the mayors from Bavaria involved in hosting the Kiwis, were even invited to join them marching in for the opening ceremony parade.

The team spent the past few days since arriving in Berlin getting familiar with the venues where they will compete across nine sports. 

The first Kiwis in action on Monday morning (NZT) will be swimmers Jesse Williams (Manawatu) and Bella Lammers (Canterbury), who will compete at the Europapark Schwimm und Sprunghalle, the largest pool complex in Europe.

On the outside athletics track at the Olympiastadion, Quentin Mahoney (Wellington) will run the 1500m heats, while Matt Di Leva (Wellington), Josh Taylor (Wairapapa), and Natasha Chang (Howick) will compete in the 200m heats. Chang has a busy first day as she also competes in the 50m sprint heats.

Next to the athletics venue, the New Zealand football team will open their campaign against Egypt. 

“I hope they don’t have Mo Salah playing tomorrow,” laughed Finn McNally from Waikato.

The Liverpool star may not compete in Berlin, but several New Zealanders will line up with some global super stars in basketball and football as part of Unified celebrity events later this week.

After a long period of dry summer weather, Berlin was this week been exposed to intermittent showers, which is causing a few headaches for the outdoor events, like the 3×3 Unified basketball competition.

This Unified event, where Special Olympics athletes compete alongside players without a disability, is located at the beautiful Neptunbrunnen Park, but may need to be moved indoors if the artificial courts become a slippery hazard.

Rain also threatened the Opening Ceremony last night, but the weather gods smiled on the World Summer Games that produces more smiles than any other sport event on the planet.

Skip to content