By Chris Kaftan
Ten months ago, the deaf sports world didn’t know whether there would even be a 2013 Deaflympics. Tonight, the Opening Ceremony of the 22nd
Summer Games proved the seemingly impossible had happened in Sofia, Bulgaria.
With 71 nations bringing squads of anywhere between three and 320 athletes, more than 6,000 spectators cheered on their countries at Arena Armeec.
The nearly 3-hour-long ceremony featured dancers clad in bird costumes on stilts, rhythmic gymnasts, drummers and bagpipe players, all celebrating Bulgaria’s rich heritage.
Members of Team USA stood up in the stands and cheered wildly as flag bearer Shana Lehmann, a beach volleyball player, led 15 of her fellow athletes and coaches into the arena. (Click here
for the story on Shana Lehmann)
“When Jeff [Salit, the USA Team Leader] announced that I was part of the flag bearer group, it was a big honor for me,” swimmer Peggy Liang said. “It felt a bit weird at first for me to be waving at everyone who waved at me in the audience, but I felt good about it afterwards because I was representing the swimming team and the USA team.”
“It was inspiring to see the United States enter the arena, all of us representing one country,” basketball player Tyler Crace said.
After the parade of nations, the audience viewed a video montage of the Torch Relay traveling through eight countries en route to Sofia in time for the Opening Ceremonies. The flame then entered the arena and was passed athlete by athlete on the floor to the stage.
Craig Crowley, president of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, opened his remarks by thanking Bulgaria for hosting the Deaflympics for the second time in 20 years.
“Without the Bulgarian Organizing Committee and 10 months of preparation, there would have been no games,” Crowley said.
“When I saw the torch being ignited and the fireworks going off inside the arena, it was inspiring,” Crace said. “It felt like all of the training and preparation I had done for the Deaflympics had paid off. The Deaflympics were now open!”
After the torch was lit, dancers clad in traditional Bulgarian costumes depicted animals of the forest and rhythmic gymnasts, drummers, and bagpipe players also performed.
The simplicity of the Opening Ceremonies was a stark contrast to the lavish celebration presented by the Taipei, Taiwan, Deaflympics organizing committee four years ago. It represented what the next 10 days will be about: the challenges of operating a barebones Deaflympics on a minimal amount of time due to scarce international funding and support.
For more photos of the Opening Ceremony, visit our Facebook page: Opening Ceremony