The Road to Cali: World Games Opening Ceremonies

Posted: July 26, 2013 10:14 PM

The following is part of our of continuing coverage of the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia. 

Sandro Zamora was incredulous. US National Team Manager Byron Hicks had just told him, nonchalantly, that the team had been in Cali for 48 hours, coming and going from El Viajero Hostel as they pleased. That they had been doing so without a police escort, according to Zamora, was unacceptable. A phone call with the equally disbelieving mayor's office later, and that was that: Zamora and two other officers would be accompanying the team everywhere they went from there on out, starting with the kilometer and a half walk to Pascual Guerrero Olympic Stadium for the World Games Opening Ceremonies.  

"It's funny, I think they're taking our security more seriously than we are," says Hicks. "We have bodyguards. How cool is that?"

The police escort was the first in last night's surreal sequence of events. Cali residents were packed ten-deep against metal barriers lined down the street, cheering and grabbing at passing athletes in a Beatlemania-like frenzy. The stadium was packed to its 45,000 person capacity, a sensory overload of colorful flags and faces fueled on by a constant and deafening roar. The National Team entered the stadium and walked around the track with the rest of the United States delegation just like in the Olympics, waving to a crowd that responded in kind with bright smiles and signs that read "Welcome to Colombia." A special kind of pride was felt when "Los Estados Unidos de America" was announced amidst such a scene, and the same twinkle-meets-tear in your eye feeling came when the entire stadium joined the mic'd up soloist's rendition of the Colombian National Anthem, when Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge spoke, and when dancers flew and fireworks exploded in celebration. 

"There was a moment when I realized that Cali was the perfect place to have this," says George Stubbs. "It's not a recognized name on the map but a big city and one with a lot of love, and they're looking at us and saying 'you’re an athlete, you’re special.' It doesn’t matter what we do, the reality is they do care. They really, really care for these ten days."

In truth, it's hard to do last night's fanfare justice. Players are still glowing as they re-live the Opening Ceremonies over one another's iPhone videos and radiantly recount the evening to random El Viajero visitors, and all of them keep coming back to a common theme: this was one of the most special experiences of their lives. They are representatives of the United States and the Ultimate communities that produced them-- the local pickup games they attend in the offseason, the college captains that encouraged them to keep coming out to practice, the high school kids they coach-- and to receive such a welcome was a profound payoff for their dedication and achievement. 

"I was just not ready for that at all mentally," says Ryan Farrell. "To think we were gonna walk into raucous stadium packed with people, after walking through streets that were packed..." He trailed off, leaving his thought incomplete but grinning from ear to ear.

The Ceremonies will perhaps be best remembered through small moments of personal interaction: Dylan Tunnell stopping to show a group of firefighters his Atlanta Fire Rescue badge; Sarah Griffith and Ashlin Joye hopping over the barriers to run down and high five a line of fans; the team trading massages while waiting for the rest of the delegations to walk the track. Pictures were a big part of what strung the night together-- the entire team was happy to follow Griffith and Joye's lead to get a shot with the mob-- and by the time Sandro was ready to accompany the team on its three kilometer walk back to El Viajero, the group was reluctantly turning down photo-seeking teenagers. They found time for more along the way, however, like when an adorable Colombian kid found his way into Beau Kittredge's arms and when it was time to part with Sandro for the evening (he was back at the hostel early this morning). 

"Walking back last night, the biggest thing was just how into it all the regular people were," says Hicks. "People would join us for a kilometer or two, ask questions about the team, and then peel off."

That the Flying Disc competition doesn't start until Sunday could be a bit of a letdown afte the Opening Ceremonies. The team is back to the scramble to find field space (they've got officially-provided space in the stadium tomorrow but would like to get some running in today), and this morning over breakfast Georgia Bosscher was back to the more familiar ground of explaining ultimate's basic rules to a Californian traveler that seemed to be having a hard time taking the sport seriously. But for the National Team, no day-to-day grind can be out shined by an evening wherein an entire city saw it fit to celebrate them as exceptional athletes. 

Plus wherever they go next, Sandro will be there with them. 

World Games - Opening Ceremonies - Images by CBMT Creative


2013 World Games (official website)



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