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UPCOMING OLYMPIC GAMES

Tokyo 2020 #1YearToGo

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Cartan Global | Tokyo 2020

T&T OLYMPIC TEAM TTO PARTNERS

They might not know it yet but all of the competitors who paraded around the track at Apia Park during the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games have something in common with some of the world’s best athletes.

Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill of Britain and South African swimming sensation Chad Le Clos are two such members of an elite group to have won an Olympic gold medal having participated at the event in the late stages of their development.

Each can claim the Commonwealth Youth Games as an integral part of their steps towards greatness.

And while they may have seen Ceremonies on an Olympic and world scale, even they would have been impressed had they seen the heart-warming spectacle presented by Samoa 2015 as the fifth edition of the event officially opened in style here this evening, in spite of a technical glitch which caused a short delay following the closure of formal proceedings.

Bathed in beautiful sunlight and with a stunning backdrop of the picturesque Samoan hills and mountains, Apia Park played a wonderful host to a Ceremony that was purely traditional from the get-go.

Unlike many other similar spectacles, no outside production company was brought in - it was conducted entirely by locals and Samoan residents - making it a true reflection of a culture many of us in the Western world remain so fascinated and intrigued by.

And those Samoans delivered a Ceremony for their nation to be proud of.

While there was no star international singing sensation or American rapping artist to steal the show, the spectacle was packed full of tradition and a true sense of community was prominent throughout.

In keeping with the traditional format of Ceremonies such as this one, it opened with the Athletes Parade, where 2011 host nation Isle of Man led out the convoy of each of the teams from the 66 competing Commonwealth countries.

Each nation was given a rapturous reception by those in attendance, with special ovations handed to the likes of Australia, hosts for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, England and Scotland, a nation that has become synonymous with the Games themselves in recent times.

As if to really hit home the message of how small Samoa is as a nation, the crowd gasped in unison as Bangladesh entered the fray, accompanied by the announcer declaring the Asian country has a population of 160 million people.

But nothing could quite match the arrival of the host nation, who were cheered as soon as their placard became visible on the left-hand side of the track.

The welcome of the 117 home athletes - the largest contingent at the Games - provided another reminder of a how much the country has got behind staging the Commonwealth Youth Games since it was awarded the hosting rights six years ago.

Three nations were in fact unable to take part in the parade due to not having arrived in Samoa on time, one of which being Dominica, a country ravaged by tropical storms in recent times, the latest of which killed 20 people.

Their participation is another method of showing the way in which sport can triumph against all odds, although the same cannot be said for Sierra Leone, whose athletes and officials were refused visas due to fears over the Ebola virus by the Samoan Government, despite lobbying from the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Not perhaps the advert for the Games they would have liked.

Yet those concerns, coupled with the disappointment of St Lucia’s withdrawal from hosting the 2017 event, were forgotten on a night where Samoa was given the opportunity to present its culture and enthusiasm for sport to the world.

Samoa is no minnow in the sporting stratosphere - it has hosted the Pacific Games on two separate occasions, in 1983 and 2007, and its rugby team are just outside of the top 10 on the latest world rankings.

But even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi went as far as saying it is the biggest sporting event they have ever held, which just goes to show the passion they have for the Games - a fervour which was evident throughout the course of the Ceremony.

Following the closure of formal proceedings, which included speeches from Malielegaoi and newly-elected CGF President Louise Martin, the Ceremony itself began, with rampant drum music hyping up the expectations of the crowd as those involved with the spectacle graced the field of play, ready to dazzle those inside the quaint venue.

It was at this point no-one moved for a good five minutes or so, with each participant remaining still as a sense of confusion washed over the Apia Park grandstand.

Was this all part of the act?

Unfortunately for the producers of the Ceremony, it wasn’t as it quickly became apparent that something had gone wrong.

It must be mentioned, however, that with the absence of a world-renowned production company, absolute perfection could not be guaranteed, and those who were made to wait patiently on the lush green grass brushed the slight malfunction off effortlessly to pick up the Ceremony’s momentum, created by a rapturously-received Athletes Parade.

Once play had restarted, so to speak, the dancers and other participants got the festivities underway, blending entertainment with informative content about the nation’s history.

Accompanied with all the razzmatazz of song and dance, the spectacle as a whole in fact got better after the delay as the centre of the field was lit up by flames by performers using fire to present a traditional Samoan dance to the crowd.

A stirring rendition of the Commonwealth Youth Games theme song “Here I Am” was then belted out by some of the best young singers Samoa has to offer, bringing a superb Ceremony to a fitting end.

Attention now turns to the sporting competition, which begins on Monday (September 7) owing to the strong religious views of Samoan people and Martin, who ousted rival Prime Imran of Malaysia to land the CGF hot-seat at the organisation’s recent General Assembly in Auckland, is hoping the Games can continue to be a unique stand-alone event which gives the athletes the best possible multi-sport event experience.

“We don’t want people to compare these Games to the main Commonwealth Games. This is a unique event,” CGF President Martin told insidethegames.

“I don’t want this to become a replica of the main Games - I want it to educate these athletes on other cultures on other communities.

“In four or five years they might be competing at the Commonwealth Games and this gives them excellent preparation for that.”

As if to further illustrate the mantra of athletes being at the core of the event, neither the CGF nor the organisers will be keeping a medals table as the federation, led by the views of Martin, who calls the Commonwealth Youth Games her “baby”, feel the event is about individual performance rather than collective totals.

It is about honing their skills and giving them an experience of a multi-sport event so they can go on to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Ennis-Hill and Le Clos.

Judging from the Opening Ceremony and the state of the venues, it looks like all of the 904 athletes who will compete for gold over the next week or so have been given the perfect platform to do just that.

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