Opening ceremonies kick off 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Under a fanfare of trumpets and the gaze of celebrities, family members and spectators, more than 2,400 athletes and coaches marched into Anchorage's Sullivan Arena on Sunday night for opening ceremonies of the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Carrying banners from 69 countries, athletes filed in to take their athlete's oath and celebrate the showcasing of abilities of people with mental retardation.

Olympic gymnast Bart Connor, former Special Olympics athlete Troy Ford-King and local television anchorwoman Maria Downey introduced the delegations as they entered the arena to cheers from the capacity crowd.

Following tradition, Special Olympics Greece entered first, wearing navy blue and red. Greece's 43 athletes were followed by teams from Andorra, Argentina and Austria, the last led by native son Arnold Schwarzenegger.

By the time the host Alaska members of Team USA entered to a standing ovation, the floor of the arena was a sea of team uniform color.

World games are scheduled every other year, alternating between summer and winter games.

The opening ceremonies in the city of about a quarter million had a distinctly Alaska flavor.

Native American groups from Seattle joined Native Alaskans in dance and a demonstration of blanket toss, which Eskimo hunters historically used to spot game such as walrus and seal.

The blanket works like a trampoline. More than 20 people grasped the edge of a walrus-hide blanket about 15 feet in diameter and flung a standing person about 20 feet high.

Melissa Joan Hart, star of ''Sabrina the Teenage Witch,'' narrated a northern fable: ''How the Eagle, Polar Bear and Walrus Found Courage, Bravery and Endurance in Their Search For a Golden Fish.''

The Special Olympics torch, the Flame of Hope, entered the arena by dogsled driven by Susan Butcher, four-time champion of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

The opening ceremonies had Hollywood glitter also.

Muscleman movie star Schwarzenegger, the former chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, and son-in-law of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, administered the athletes oath: ''Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.''

Frankie Muniz of ''Malcolm in the Middle'' and Natalie Ratano of ''VIP'' served as host and hostess. The Pointer Sisters and Kristine W provided musical numbers.

Athletes will compete in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross country skiing, floor hockey, figure skating, speed skating, snowshoeing and snowboarding. The last two are making their debut.

Competition began Sunday with ''divisioning,'' in which games officials gauge skills and divide athletes into groups or teams of eight of comparable skills.

The games run through March 11.

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