'Excited' vibe to Masters Games openingSave
By Grant Chapman
Opening ceremonies are often about one host city trying to outdo the previous ones with spectacular fireworks and theatrical productions, while nervous athletes contemplate their competitions ahead.
World Masters Games 2017 has a very different vibe, which was reflected in the official opening at Eden Park.
Everyone was there to have fun and while there certainly medals to be won over the next 10 days, they seem almost an afterthought to the concept of making friends and creating memories.
For Aussie footballer Terry Sherman, this was his fifth World Masters Games. He and his team-mates were dressed as surf lifesavers, because, well, that's what everyone expected from Aussies.
Thankfully, no budgie smugglers in sight.
"These are amazing events and they just get better," he gushed, as lights dimmed and everyone took their seats.
"It's about meeting people and being social. You meet people from different counties with different interests ... it's just an amazing experience and I'd recommend it to anyone.
"Sport is about being competitive and trying your best. Even if you don't win a game, if you tried your best, that's all you can ask."
This opening ceremony began with no spectators, just participants. The event was a relatively private affair, with no public allowed.
The stands were filled with athletes and officials, grouped not by country, but by sport.
These strangers sitting next to you were the same people you would compete with and against on the sportsfield ... and then share a beer or wine with afterwards.
Organisers had promised them a spectacular light show and as the lights went out, the participants were immediately called upon to participate, flashing the lights that had been distributed to each of them around the Eden Park grandstands.
The usual formalities - speeches from WMG2017 chairman Sir John Wells, Prime Minister Bill English, Auckland mayor Phil Goff, International World Masters Games president Kai Holm, sponsor Peter Thompson - were politely received.
"We hope you enjoy the next 10 days and celebrate sport for all for life," said Sir John. "We hope you achieve your personal goals, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy this city as your own.
"These are your games."
Some of the crowd had already begun soaking up the atmosphere (and a few other liquids), but were brought to order by Wellington schoolteacher Monica Mercury, reading the athlete oath.
"We're very excited," Janice Walker from Johannesburg, draped in a South African flag and attending her first Games to play hockey.
"The festivity and vibe in the city is awesome. I am only just of age, so these are my first Games."
Walker's Mufasa Fillies have a very full itinerary booked - their opening game is tomorrow night, but they're planning a cycle tour of Auckland before then and, obviously/ a visit to Waiheke Island.
English had the honour of finally declaring the Games open and then the show really began, as the sports took it turns to leave the stands and parade around the hallowed turf, dallying just long enough to savour the moment, and then drift out to their waiting buses.
The Great Kiwi Songbook playlist, belted out from the stage, may have been lost on the overseas visitors, but still a nice touch for the local majority. Organisers may have underestimated the time it takes for thousands of athletes to file out of the stands and around the field, but thankfully our song-writing talent was up to the task.
Athletics was the last to leave.
"This was fun," said Michael Steele from Wichita, Kansas - an American on a Canadian 60+ volleyball team that also included a Brazilian and a Russian.
This eclectic band first met a couple of years ago at the US nationals and have reunited for this occasion.
"This is my first Masters Games, I've never been to an opening ceremony before and I enjoyed it.
"None of us have ever been to the Olympics, but we like to play, we like to compete and we like the camaraderie.
"We're ready to start."
Several of the 28 sports got under way even before the opening ceremony, including softball, swimming, waka ama, badminton and baseball.
Most of the other codes will begin on Saturday, with a closing ceremony scheduled for Sunday, April 30.