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‘Fiesta of the Americas’ continues

November 14, 2011

Thought all the hoopla surrounding the Pan American Games was over? Think again. Zapopan’s Telmex Athletics Stadium was virtually full for the inauguration of the Guadalajara 2011 Parapan American Games on Saturday night.

An enjoyable if unspectacular night of song, dance and pyrotechnics began and finished with surprising punctuality.

A large stage was installed for the occasion in the middle of the only-recently-finished running track, with big screens on either side. Translators stood below each screen repeating the announcements in sign-language for the audibly impaired.

Before the festivities began, one minute’s silence was held in honor of Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora and the seven others who were killed in a helicopter crash on Friday. Throughout the night all flags remained at half-mast as a reminder of the previous day’s tragedy, but the opening ceremony managed to provide some welcome relief.

To kick things off, the national anthem was sung by soprano and Jalisco native Diana Illiann, before a blast of fireworks announced the arrival of the athletes. Mexican waves broke out, while two wheelchair-bound Peruvian athletes kissed to the delight of the audience.

Visibly delighted to be here, the teams from Brazil, Cuba and, of course, Mexico drew the biggest cheers from the crowd. Along with the United States and Venezuela, these delegations dwarfed those of some of the smaller Central American and Caribbean nations.

Guadalajara is host to the 4th Parapan American Games, with the inaugural games having taken place in Mexico City in 1999. Sadly, athletes from just 24 of the 42 countries in the Pan American Games are taking part.

Addressing the crowd for a little longer than was necessary, President of the Americas Paralympics Committee Octavio Londoño Girald laid down a challenge to the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games and the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympics to ensure athletes from every regional nation are involved.

The highlight of the night and the first time the stadium really came alive was for a rousing mariachi performance of “Guadalajara, Guadalajara,” accompanied by folkloric dancers, Mexican “charros” and more fireworks. There were even mariachis in wheelchairs dancing on stage.

The last leg of the torch relay was then completed and the symbolic paralympic flame was lit. Live performances followed from female-fronted rock bands Radiad and Jod Dog, before 1980s Mexican pop singer Yuri took the stage. Finally, Jian Marco brought the curtains down with his interpretation of the official games anthem “El Mismo Sol,” amid a last salvo of fireworks.

Competition in 13 sports begins Sunday in the Guadalajara metropolitan area. The games run until Sunday, November 20, when the closing ceremony will be held, also in the Telmex Athletics Stadium.

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