Signifying the official start of the Guadalajara 2011 Pan American Games, the organizing committee put on a spectacular show for athletes and spectators alike at Friday’s (Oct. 14) Opening Ceremony at Omnilife Stadium – home of local soccer club Chivas.
Festivities included an interactive light display, singing, folkloric Mexican dance, fireworks and, of course, the traditionally inspiring parade of athletes and lighting of the torch. The cauldron was lit by Paola Espinosa, who won a bronze medal in diving at the Beijing Olympic Games, while Enriqueta Basilio, who made history by being the very first woman to light the Olympic Cauldron at the1968 Games in Mexico City, was one among several Olympians to carry the torch into the stadium.
“The Opening Ceremony was incredible in so many ways,” said Kim Rhode (El Monte, Calif.), four-time U.S. Olympic medalist in shooting. “It was a wonderful representation of the pride and culture of Mexico and it made me even more excited for the Games to begin.”
With true American spirit, all countries were cheered upon entering the stadium, but the crowd erupted as the host country, Mexico, walked into the limelight. Also in attendance were Mexican President Felipe Calderon and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge.
More than 6,000 athletes will compete in the two-and-a-half week competition and Team USA adds 617 to the mix. While the entire U.S. delegation has not yet arrived (the USA rugby team won’t arrive until the 26th of October), close to 200 Team USA athletes marched in the Opening Ceremony.
Olympic champion rower Jason Read (Ringoes, N.J.) led Team USA into the stadium. He was selected by his teammates earlier this week to be the U.S. flag bearer.
“This was by far the best Opening Ceremony I’ve ever attended,” said U.S. taekwondo athlete Stephen Lamdin (Colleyville, Texas). “Walking in behind the U.S. flag with countless people cheering for us was the experience of a lifetime, and one I’ll never forget.”
The Opening Ceremony of the Pan American Games marked the start of the world’s second-largest sporting event, only behind the Olympics, in Mexico’s second largest city of Guadalajara.
Since the first event in 1951 hosted by Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Pan Am Games have grown significantly.
Originally slated to begin in 1942, the Games were postponed due to World War II. Eighteen sports took part in the 1951 edition compared to 36 in 2011. The number of nations and athletes has skyrocketed as well, going from 21 to 42 countries and 2,513 to 6,000 competitors. Since the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, basque pelota, racquetball and rugby have been added to the program.
The Pan American Games are held every four years, preceding the Olympic Games by a year. The Games of the 60th anniversary year include all 26 sports of the 2012 Olympic Games, along with select non-Olympic sports. Fifteen U.S. teams will use the Pan Am Games as a qualifying event for the London Games, either directly, through world ranking points or as a way to meet a minimum time standard.
“People here in Guadalajara are getting venues prepared,” said Alan Ashley, Chef de Mission for Team USA. “They are building a beautiful village and really putting on America’s Fiesta in special way. They’re improving the quality of the Pan American Games as showing the best athletes in the Americas, and we’re getting ready to go.”
A total of 617 U.S. athletes will look to continue the country’s dominance in the XVI Pan Am Games as the U.S. stands with 3,969 total medals in the 60-year span. Cuba is second on the total medal count list with 1,796. The U.S. controls the gold medal count as well with 1,796 followed by Cuba’s 781.
After the 2011 Pan Am Games, the event will move from South to North America when Toronto, Ont., hosts the Games for the first time in 2015
The U.S. flag was raised Thursday (Oct. 13) at the Pan American Vllage, signifying Team USA’s official welcome to America’s Fiesta.
Several U.S. government and U.S. Olympic Committee officials attended the ceremony, including the U.S. consul general in Guadalajara, Daniel Keller; USOC President Larry Probst; USOC Secretary General Scott Blackmun; and Alan Ashley, USOC chief of sport performance and Chef de Mission of Team USA..
“It’s always fantastic to see the U.S. flag raised, especially here in Guadalajara,” said Ashley. “The organizing committee has put together a nice village, where I’m sure our athletes, coaches and staff will have a great home these next couple weeks.”
Also in attendance were approximately 50 Team USA athletes from the sports of modern pentathlon, shooting, softball, swimming and team handball.
“Just being at the Pan American Games is a dream come true for us,” said men’s team handball player Jordan Fithian (McPherson, Kan.) who was standing next to his wife, Jennifer (Bow, N.H.), who plays on the women’s handball team. “Watching the flag raise and hearing our national anthem was pretty unbelievable and it was even better that we got to share it together.”
In the Guadalajara village alone, 598 U.S. athletes will use the housing service provided by the organizing committee. Meanwhile, the village in Puerto Vallarta will host 29 U.S. athletes from sailing, swimming (open water), triathlon and beach volleyball.