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Ja on parade!

Monday, March 20, 2017

GRAZ, Austria — Inspirational messages, powerful live performances and spectacular lighting and decor were hallmarks of Saturday’s official opening of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games, even as freezing temperatures and rain had spectators shivering inside the Planai Stadium in Schladming.

As the Flame of Hope was lit late in the evening, the 23-member delegation from Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) was among those from over 100 countries who chanted the motto: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The Jamaicans, led by former National Basketball Association star player Sam Perkins, waved to spectators as they walked into the venue during the Parade of Athletes, which featured several musical creations.

“It was a really good opening ceremony. The speeches were short, and entertainers did songs that persons could identify,” Glendon West, Jamaica’s head of delegation, told the Jamaica Observer.

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“Although it was cold and raining and we were outside, nobody really was agitated because it was entertaining. They [organisers] prepared for that kind of weather and it didn’t really damper anything, and our athletes stood right throughout. We had an option to go back to [shelter] but nobody wanted that,” he added.

In conditions that were said to have hovered as low as zero degrees Celsius in the winter sport resort town, Alexander Van der Bellen, the Austria president, and Dr Timothy Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics International, delivered encouraging speeches.

They told athletes to not allow intellectual disabilities to limit their goals in life.

Gripping song performances came from Soviet-born German star Helene Fischer, Grammy Awards winner Jason Mraz and teenage sensation Grace VanderWaal.

Maria Naber, a dancer with intellectual disabilities, performed an eye-catching theatrical interpretation that brought rapturous cheers.

Spectators were also left in awe as skiers gracefully descended the mountainside behind the stadium, and weaved into the venue in seeming perfect choreography.

A touching video tribute was given in memory of Hermann Kröll, the former president of Special Olympics Austria who died last September. He was recognised for his integral role in getting Austria to twice host the winter edition of the Special Olympics Games.

The lighting of the cauldron, accompanied by brilliant and extensive fireworks — that lasted about 10 minutes —signalled the end of the opening ceremony.

The nine sporting disciplines to be contested at these Games are figure skating, speed skating, floor hockey, floor ball, snowshoeing, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding and stick shooting.

SOJ is competing in floor hockey and speed skating.

The closing ceremony is scheduled for Merkur Arena in Graz on March 24.

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