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Opening Ceremonies for the 2003 World Freestyle Championships

This was my 11th World Championships opening ceremony, and I must say it ranked up there with the best. Initially upon entering the main square the obvious was the super sized video screen, stage, huge banners, and there were already a few thousand people there. The ceremony started as most do with the mayor, sports council person, organizers, and sponsors saying a few words. Meanwhile the athletes from over 30 countries gathered in their team uniforms not understanding a much of what is said. Except for those who speak German, of course.

Then there were traditional Austrian performers. There were men with big whips making big cracking sounds and dancing around, not bad. The same men also did the hippity hoppity dancing around, stomping their feet, and slapping their knees. I can’t be sure, but I think these are the hillbillies of Austria. There were also traditional dancers, not unlike refined square dancing. These must have been the more refined class’s dancing. Then there was a performance by Mexican and Canadian Indians. It was a good one, but talk about confusing. We all were wondering, “What do Indians and Austria have to do with each other?” Now, we didn’t even know, at the time, where the Indians were from, but were sure that there is no such thing as Indians in Austria. We are sure they were either praying for rain, or sun, but nobody has confirmation of which one yet. I am pretty sure it was for rain, because we got some less than an hour later.

Then there was the parade of flags. This is always cool. Kids from the town get to carry their flag of choice (theoretically), and the team leader walks with them as the commentator welcomes the country to their city. Dan Gavere(team leader) and Tanya Shuman walked with the American Flag. The Russian, Chech, Chile, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Norway, England, Croatia flags all received big cheers as they were paraded through the square. Team Ireland is always good for a laugh as they get rowdy in any group setting. The roots of Irish Freestyle are “Irish Dave” and “Kipper”. Both are great paddlers and as funny as people get. Give those guys a microphone and you have a rockin’ party, guaranteed.

Finally, Hans Theessink (this guy could use a stage name), an Austrian Blues singer, who sings in English (I swear you would think this guy is Eric Clapton) performs his original song made for the event called “Ro ro Rodeo” I must admit, people thought it was a little cheesy at first, but this guy is good. He got about 5000 people singing the song and the square turned into a dancing, singing, flag waving party in about 30 seconds. Steve Fisher and his brother vowed to create a more “rockin” song for a future time, but it is hard to get 5000 people to sing to something like Rob Zombie.

There were some tear jerking stories of people doing good things for others, too, of course. Team Chile’ came to compete and have been training hard, but were unaware of the $120 entry fee per person, and were completely unable to pay it. (it is a completely different story worth telling sometime about the number of kayakers who got here by the seat of their pants, but have no cash left for food, lodging, entry fees, etc.) My wonderful wife, Kristine, found out about this and made it her mission to get them the money to enter, and at the U.S. Team meeting took up a collection. You will be proud to know that the U.S. Team responded quite generously and within 15 minutes their entry fees were paid in full. They were quite thankful and the thoughts of coming across the globe only to get turned around at the finish line were replaced with the excitement of knowing that the Americans which are always taking advantage of their hospitality in Chile’ were willing to reciprocate.

I went from the opening ceremony to the VIP party which was on the floating island. It was fun, free food and drinks, but lacked the camaraderie of the opening ceremonies. The concert, food, and location were worth sticking around for.