Living an athlete's dream
SHENZHEN, August 13, 2011 - When nearly 12,000 athletes, coaches and officials are gathered outside a stadium, there's bound to be some anticipation. And that was exactly the case on Friday night as the 152 national delegations of the 2011 FISU Summer University Games lined up — a line up that stretched for miles — outside Shenzhen Bay Stadium, awaiting their chance to be welcomed into the Games' opening ceremonies.
What appeared to be an ordinary stadium wall separated the athletes from what awaited them inside the stadium and though they weren't quite sure what they were walking into, they knew it was going to be something to remember.
"It's really exciting, I can't wait to get inside," said Belgian swimmer Poels Corentin. "I feel like once we get inside the stadium it will just be like an explosion."
And that explosion did occur, in the form of cheers on applause — both from the fans inside the stadium and the athletes waiting outside — when that seemingly ordinary stadium wall was illuminated by a choreographed dance and light show and then parted to reveal the packed 20,000-seat stadium.
With their cameras, camcorders and cell phones raised, capturing this once in a lifetime event, the athletes made their way into the stadium, being greeted by a roar from the crowd.
"It's amazing, I've never seen something like this in my life," said Thiago Alves of Brazil's men's volleyball team. "My heart is beating so fast... I will never forget this moment."
As they moved to their seats, the delegations' reception did not wane. Most of the athletes and coaches interacted with the crowd, tossing souvenirs of their country to the appreciative mostly Chinese fans.
For some, the whole experience was almost overwhelming.
"I am speechless. This is like being in the Olympics," said Canadian basketball player Julie Seabrook. "It's amazing. I can't even explain how proud I am just to play for Canada and now to be able involved in something like [the opening ceremonies], it almost brings me to tears."
The delegations were then treated to several performances, which involved nearly 8,000 Chinese youth and young adults. And the cultural experience was not lost on the young athletes.
"You can tell they've put a lot of work into this and it looks really good. This is probably one of the best things I've ever been a part of in my life," said Canadian basketball player Jahmal Jones.
However, the younger members of the delegations weren't the only ones blown away by the opening ceremonies experience.
"Again, China's put on a great extravaganza," said Team Canada chef de mission Peter Baxter, who was a part of the Canadian delegation at the 2009 Winter Universiade in Harbin, China.
"We're all just so excited to be a part of this.... I don't think anyone understands it until they walk into the stadium with their uniform on. This is a lifetime experience for everyone here."
"For some reason, I just feel so important right now, this is incredible." Canadian basketball player Jahmal Jones.
"This will be something to remember for years and years to come; it'll definitely be something these kids will tell their grandchildren about." Team Canada chef de mission Peter Baxter.
"Being here with all these other students, having this experience, it's breathtaking." Team Canada basketball player Julie Seabrook.